Music

Robert Pollard: Crickets

In typical Pollard fashion, Crickets is overstuffed with filler, but sifting through the mess will yield some classic tracks, and even a few lesser-known gems.


Robert Pollard

Crickets: Best of the Fading Captain Series: 1999-2007

Label: Recordhead
US Release Date: 2007-07-17
UK Release Date: Available as import
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It seems like Bob Pollard can't be held totally accountable for his absurd amount of output over the years. If you're a musician, if you've quit your job and managed to figure out how to do it full-time, it seems like you should work on your craft as much as you can. Nothing wrong with writing a song or two a day. Of course, most musicians take a more discerning approach to release than Bob does, preferring to select the best of their work for public consumption. Pollard, as we all know, is notorious for putting it all out there. But let's not forget he is filling a demand, and that blame for his prolific and uneven catalog must fall upon that sect of Pollardheads -- if you ever caught Guided By Voices live, you know they exist -- who will buy anything Pollard releases. There probably isn't a Circus Devils fan to be found in the Western hemisphere, but those records sell, if modestly, to Bob's most devoted fans who like the look of a stack of Pollard records, destined for future Ebay listings, piled in the corner of their studio apartment.

Many of these records came via the Fading Captain Series, which Pollard has decided to finally end after 43 releases. The 44th and final record in the series is the double-disc Crickets which helms the "best" fifty songs of the series, along with a few new bonus tracks. It is a bit of a misnomer, however, to call this Best of the Fading Captain Series: 1999-2007, since it really isn't. It is more of a cross-section, a well-shaped microcosm of a series as full of great releases as it is maligned by nonsensical ones.

If Pollard and his most devoted fans were honest with themselves, they'd realize that Bob's non-GBV side projects (Airport 5, Circus Devils, the Moping Swans, Psycho and the Birds, the Takeovers, Keene Brothers, Lifeguards, et al) may yield the occasional decent track, but are largely without merit. Truly the best stuff that came out of FCS came from Pollard's solo albums, and that material is well-represented here. Live GBV classics like "Tight Globes" and "Pop Zeus" still shine as bright as anything Pollard ever wrote. Less celebrated but still fantastic tracks like "Do Something Real", "White Gloves Come Off", and "7th Level Shutdown" hearken back to a day when Pollard could do little wrong, and may even give hope for Pollard's upcoming solo releases.

Still, these great songs, along with a few others, get buried in the psych-kook meanderings of the Circus Devils, the bland soft-rock proficiency of the Keene Brothers, and the fanboy prog rock of the Lifeguards. Pollard's work with Tobin Sprout in Airport 5 is solid, but with the exception of the wonderful "Total Exposure", the songs don't hold the listener's attention the way his best stuff does. Same goes for the Takeovers' tracks here. Also on display here is the often problematic production that mars Pollard's solo work. While the strength of the songs often overcome this trouble, the albums seem to rest on GBV's lo-fi cred, and use it as an excuse to make sloppy, lazily produced records that sound more amateurish than charmingly D.I.Y. Later albums like Fiction Man don't have songs good enough to ignore the bad production, and his side projects have the production down, but most of that music is too plodding for their fidelity to matter.

It's not all obvious hits and freakshow filler on Crickets, though. There are some hidden gems to be found. Two selections from the brilliant Lexo and the Leapers' Ask Them -- the live favorite "Alone, Stinking, and Unafraid" and the lesser known "Time Machines" -- show Pollard at his rocking best. "Harrison Adams", perhaps Pollard's best straight-up pop song in the last seven or so years, was buried late in the cumbersome Motel of Fools mini-LP, but will surely get more attention here. Most notable is the inclusion of three songs from Go Back Snowball, Pollard's brilliant but oft-overlooked electro-fuzz-pop collaboration with Portastatic Superchunker Mac McCaughan. Their album, Calling Zero, is far and away the best of Bob's side projects and deserves its three slots on Crickets.

This album has a built-in audience, and it's hard to imagine recommending it to anyone who isn't a die-hard GBVer. Still, there are a dozen fantastic songs here, and ten or so other solid tracks. Those aren't bad numbers, even if you do have to sift through a bunch of throwaway tracks and some new bonus material that isn't even worth mentioning. Crickets may be typically overstuffed, but whether you find it irritating or endearing, it's what we've come to expect from Bob, and he ain't changing anytime soon.

6

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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