Work Shy

Uncle Bob goes solo, still split difference between profligate and prolific

In "Recovering," the last track on his new album, Robert Pollard sums up his artistic modus operandi: "Tomorrow will be," he sings, "let today still be now." As his dizzyingly dense Guided By Voices discography tells us, Pollard believes in immediacy—even when it's to his own detriment—and From a Compound Eye finds Uncle Bob dancing yet again on the distinction between prolific and profligate. While his dedication to capturing the moment can lead to some gloriously vital rock 'n' roll ("Gold", "Love Is Stronger Than Witchcraft"), it can also lead him to accept ideas for songs ("Kensington Cradle") and gibberish for lyrics ("Kick Me and Cancel").

The album won't surprise anyone familiar with Pollard's work with the recently defunct GBV. His traditionalist's love for psych, prog, and folk is still rendered alive and well, and rendered with melody and verve across each of the disc's four "sides." But slices of irresistible guitar pop like "Dancing Girls and Dancing Men," and regal pocket epics like "Conqueror of the Moon," are tarred with the brush of sketchbook goop like "Denied"—a threadbare riff in search of some discipline. Pollard's disdain for self-editing can even have the effect of preventing good tracks from being better: If the crunching jam of "The Numbered Head" had received some pruning, it might be hypnotic instead of tedious.

Watch out for bed bugs, Bob.
photo: Brennan Cavanaugh
Watch out for bed bugs, Bob.

Details

Robert Pollard
From A Compound Eye
Merge
Stream "Gold" (Windows Media)
Stream "The Right Thing" (Windows Media)

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For all his impressive fecundity, Pollard's output has more to do with laziness than a hardy Midwestern work ethic. It's easy to fill your basket if you don't separate the wheat from the chaff. When you've written 5,000 songs, like Pollard says he has, but have yet to record a wholly satisfying album, something's wrong. That Eyeis neither great nor terrible and often very good can be attributed to one part talent and two parts luck. But the fact remains that Pollard is far too willing to leave all the heavy lifting to the listeners.

 
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