Please Be Honest is the latest in a line of impressive latter-day GBV records.
When Robert Pollard pulled the plug on Guided By Voices for a second time in 2014, it seemed the curtain was closed for good. But the Ohio native announced a reactivated GBV earlier this year and now, seconds after his solo effort, Of Course You Are came onto the market, we have Please Be Honest. It’s the latest in a line of impressive latter-day GBV records. It finds the former schoolteacher playing all the instruments, thus creating more mystery about the fate and nature of the group he first put together in 1983.
This 15-track collection has some of Pollard’s weirdest moments of late as well as several instances of unspeakable beauty. In other words, it’s another typical release from Dayton Bob. Acoustic guitars figure heavy here, starting with “My Zodiac Companion,” a brilliant slice of patented Pollard power pop that gives way to the ultra-catchy “Kid on a Ladder.” If this were a record dependent on singles, then these two would be the first and second culled for radio. Each comes with a memorable chorus, hooks that bury themselves under the skin and rhythms that we get up and dance. Or something like that. They’re also, in many ways, too short. The trick with the maestro’s music is that like summer romance it never lasts long enough.
Then, things get weird. “Come On Mr. Christian” breaks into your regularly scheduled life like LSD. “The Grasshopper Eaters” is all cracks and crashes beneath a buzzing acoustic guitar figure that repeats until the listener’s sanity gives way. It’s the dynamic we encounter throughout. As soon as we feel like we’ve taken to the brink, Pollard unleashes a perfectly tuneful “Glittering Parliaments” and the McCartney-meets-Barrett “The Caterpillar Workforce.” Two of the best acoustic numbers, “Hotel X (Big Soap)” and “I Think a Telescope,” rest between the bludgeoning psychosis of “The Quickers Arrive” and the garage pop of “Please Be Honest.”
For those who don’t have a firm grasp on or belief in Pollard’s aesthetic, the latter moments can be hard going. From a distance, “Nightmare Jamboree” lives up to its name, perhaps without intention. “Unfinished Business” takes the lo-fi/unfinished business approach a greater distance than many can handle. But “Defeatist’s Lament” finds the man himself singing in a lovelier voice than one can recall in recent times and the closing “Eye Shop Heaven” serves as a perfect collage of this album’s best elements.
Those of us who’ve come to love GBV and Pollard’s many guises have grown accustomed to frustration. Not all this man’s records are created equal. There are releases great and slight, brilliant and perfunctory and many that land in between. Of the two records from the Pollard camp issued in 2016’s first quarter, Of Course You Are proves much more substantive. That’s The Artist digging in and coming up with something refined and confident. This, on the other hand, is Bob doing his job but forgetting to sweep the shop floor before he goes home. We’ll love it because it’s him but we look forward to tomorrow when he’ll shop up well-rested, alert and capable of giving it his all.