To say that The Takeovers’ latest offering, Bad Football, is the most consistent side project release from Robert Pollard in a long while—perhaps since Go Back Snowball—is probably more of a testament to his other projects’ shortcomings than to the strengths of this album, his second collaboration with former GBV bassist Chris Slusarenko. Because this album is stuck in a limbo between the more consistent pop of Pollard’s solo work and the ADD-pop of his many-monikered other projects.
Still, if there is an undeniable strength to Bad Football, it is the full-band feeling that much of the album provides. With special guests like Stephen Malkmus and the Decemberists’ Jon Moen, among others, this feels much less like the typical Pollard studio sound where (in this case) Slusarenko records all the music, and then Bob comes in and provides the vocals. The sort of disconnected sound that always ends up happening with that equation (even on his recent Merge releases with Todd Tobias) is absent here when Malkmus solos on opener “You’re at It” and provides the song with some much-needed slack. The loose feel comes across on a number of other tracks, and the album sounds like Pollard and company are having a lot of fun.
And some of the results of all that fun are strong. “Father’s Favorite Temperature” is the best track here, as it channels Pollard’s typically strong pop sensibilities through sunny 70s rock. “Molly & Zack” is a nice acoustic-driven number and “Smokestack Bellowing Stars” is the second best full-band sounding track behind “You’re at It”.
The Takeovers, for much of the album, absolutely refuse to take themselves seriously. Bad Football might be more intentionally goofy than any other Pollard release in recent memory, and while it gives the album some charm, it sometimes sinks songs that could be great. “I Can See My Dog” is, well, about Bob watching a dog as it plays dead or retrieves papers or wreaks havoc on family members. “Kicks at the Gym” is, ah ,well, about working out at the gym. And “Pretty Not Bad” is a self-effacing spoken-word distant cousin to the GBV classic “Hot Freaks”. And while its nice to hear Pollard say, “I have a fake English accent” (he does), the effect wears off because the song is just not strong enough to rise above kitsch. So it is with these other sophomoric offerings. That they’re goofy isn’t their problem; their problem is that they’re only goofy and don’t even try to be passable songs.
Other tracks almost don’t warrant mentioning. “Music for Us” finds Pollard doing his best (read: worst) Elton John impression, and the faux piano-ballad is more grating than charming. “Little Green Onion Man” is almost passable, but it sounds like a melody that Pollard phoned in, and “The Jester of Helpmeat”, title aside, has little going for it.
Closer “My Will” almost redeems the album, though. It is a straight-up fuzz-pop tune that is easily the tightest composition on the record, and after trudging through a tough second half of the record, the listener will find this song hearkens back to the stronger tracks at the beginning. The song also sidesteps the self-conscious mugging going on in the rest of Bad Football and the earnest attempt at songwriting is warmly welcome. The trouble with ending the record like this, though, is that it might leave you wondering why The Takeovers didn’t just write songs like this all along. Because in the end, the variations that come in Pollard’s side projects are often superficial ones, and what he’s best at—pure pop hooks and clever wordplay—is what makes the best moments of these inferior products listenable. The Takeovers is far from the worst we’ve heard from Pollard, but its also far from the best, mostly because Bad Football sounds like something that could’ve been a whole lot better.