Guided by Voices – The Bears for Lunch

5 Mar

The-Bears-for-Lunch-album-art This was supposed to be published 12/14/2013 and then it wasn’t.

Though Guided by Voices didn’t have any big winners this year, they would definitely be up for a Most Productive of 2012 nomination.  The Bears for Lunch was the third LP released this year after January’s Let’s Go Eat the Factory and June’s Class Clown Spots a UFO; that’s 63 songs released in eleven months, not counting frontman Robert Pollard’s two solo albums!  And the best part about their 2012 crop, at least for hardcore GBV fans, was that it marked the reformation of the celebrated mid-90s cast: Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Greg Demos, Mitch Mitchell and Kevin Fennell…the cast responsible for Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes and under-appreciated Under the Bushes Under the Stars.

Two average releases into 2012 and Guided by Voices sounded like they were instead a really talented Guided by Voices cover band playing their own originals.  Sure, tracks like “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” and “Tyson’s High School” proved that they could rock as hard as they did nearly twenty years ago, but the new albums were cluttered with lo-fi duds and misfires that sounded as though they were sequenced after one of GBV’s infamous Budweiser binges of the same era.  Released this week, The Bears for Lunch exceeds the waning novelty appeal of a Guided by Voices “reunion” record.

The Bears’ production runs the classical GBV gamut from four-track basement recordings to stuiod mid-fi, and Pollard’s pared down, free association oddities are once again inexplicably balanced by Tobin Sprout’s harmonious, McCartney-esque jangles.  The band as a whole sounds as though they have reclaimed a sense of creative comfortability that wasn’t quite there on their first two albums of 2012 which is likely due in part to practicing and touring together again for a year now.

“King Arthur the Red” starts the album off with an epic Pollard rock n’ roll kicker followed by the stool-poised songwriter in Sprout’s “The Corners Are Glowing.”  The album is in fact totally solid until the pointless and ill-conceived “Dome Rust.”  The trend continues with a string of starts followed by single stops.  It’s these “stops,” or weak tracks like “Dome Rust,” “Tree Fly Jet” and “Smoggy Boy” that impede the album’s playability.

That being said, The Bears for Lunch contains some of GBV’s best tracks since Under the Bushes.  Guided by Voice’s wonted trope of aviation shines on “She Lives in an Airport” and Sprout’s “Waving at Airplanes.”  Tobin Sprout hits a high point with his finger-plucked “Waking Up the Stars.”  Pollard’s delivery on “Up Instead of Running” and “Everywhere is Miles From Everywhere” sound eerily close to Michael Stipe but is rather satisfying in spite of itself.  The album’s centerpiece, “White Flag,” is the strongest track.  The lyrics, which could easily be interpreted as a break-up song, are equally applicable to the the band’s reassurance to fans that they will not surrender so easily: “What’s the agenda, what were you thinking, a white flag in my pocket? / I think you know how I feel.”

It goes without saying that a compilation of the twenty best tracks of their 2012 output would have been far better than three separate albums, but The Bears for Lunch is markedly better than its two predecessors.  It’s unclear as to why the band’s emphasis was on quantity versus quality it 2012; perhaps it was intended as a monumental statement (which it is in a way), or it’s possible that the former bandmates didn’t expect to tolerate each other’s creative company for more than a year.  One thing is certain, Guided by Voices is still relevant after all these years and The Bears should restore confidence in GBV fans that there is still potential for an album as prolific as Bee Thousand.

Noteworthy Track: “Waving at Airplanes,” “White Flag” and “Waking Up the Stars”

Rating: ***1/2

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