Guided by Voices was the primary Alt/College Rock assault vehicle for Dayton,
Ohio-based rocksmith Robert Pollard, and stands as one of the most tireless,
stirring, and influential underground bands of all time. A former elementary
school teacher, Pollard formed GbV in 1985 with a smattering of Dayton musicians
and friends. Their first four albums didn’t hit many radar screens, but 1992’s
breakout Propeller landed the group an ounce of national recognition, as
notaries Kim Deal and Thurston Moore signed on as avid fans.
When GbV broke up at the end of 2004, nobody expected the warped yet genius mind
of Robert Pollard to simply cease and desist from writing or recording music.
Solo albums are nothing new to him, after all, though most of Pollard’s more
distinguished work over the past 20 years has been delivered in the GbV shell
(except for that ill-advised comedy record, for which the band will take no
credit or blame). Here we have From a Compound Eye, which is already being
referred to as the F.A.C.E. album, a 26-track double disc that fumbles from
studio, full-band sound to novice four-track experiments in beer-soaked mayhem.
Oh, to have the cult status that affords such freedom!
Pollard’s multiple-personality mastery of song once again serves as his greatest
attribute, though some would argue it’s also a dangerous crutch. Self-described
as “the four Ps: punk, psych, prog, and pop”, Pollard’s unique style is
partnered with producer and musical mate Todd Tobias on F.A.C.E., a merry trip
through a vast field of incongruent two-minute compositions. GbV fans will
surely welcome Pollard’s distinctive guitar playing on “50-Year-Old Baby”, a
novelty that was often assigned to band mates during the final few years. “I’m a
Widow” and “Dancing Girls and Dancing Men” both exhibit the
stand-up-and-take-notice pop radiance that got the former band acknowledged on a
national scale. Unfortunately, Pollard’s insistence on including the bizarro
psych and prog elements clutters the greater effort, and makes F.A.C.E. a
challenging listen from start to finish.
Sloppy arrangements of excessive noise (“Kensington Cradle”) and low-cost
engineering (“Denied”) have me pondering how solid F.A.C.E. could have been as a
single disc with all killer and no filler (think In Your Honor from Foo Fighters
last year). When a song like “Love Is Stronger than Witchcraft” rears its
beautiful head early in the second half of the record, Pollard’s maturity and
knack appear unmatched. The guy really can write a song! It could be argued,
then, that he might go down as one of the great underachievers in the College
Rock rank. Yes, a guy whose personal record collection is stuffed with the
Beatles, the Who, Genesis, REM, and Blue Oyster Cult seems content with drinking
in the shadows of legends rather than mingling among them. It seems sad and
wonderful at the same time.