Robert Pollard – 'Blazing Gentlemen' album review

The Guided By Voices main man sounds cryptic and proggy on his second solo album this year

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

The silver-topped frontman of ’90s lo-fi legends Guided By Voices, Robert Pollard, has already released one solo album this year plus a further three releases – but ‘Blazing Gentlemen’ displays a creative fervour undiminished by such productivity – or by middle age or his heavy drinking. Away from the tuneful, collaged chaos of GBV, the morphine-dream menace of his side-project Circus Devils and the four-track squall of his Teenage Guitar moniker, Pollard’s recent solo outings have offered up some of his most forthright and traditional song writing yet.

That first solo album of 2013, July’s ‘Honey Locust and Honkey Tonk’, tipped its Stetson to the heartland – but ‘Blazing Gentlemen’ sees Pollard digging into muscular garage rock riffs, ’60s pop harmonies and proggy mysticism. Wrapped in winding, hypnotic guitar lines, Pollard’s gruff, booming vocals on ‘Red Flag Down’ let him command attention like a true elder statesman of rock ’n’ roll. But don’t worry, this LP is no cosy, pipe-and-slippers job: there’s still plenty of madness to Pollard’s method.

To begin with, ‘Blazing Gentlemen’ is full of Pollard’s trademark off-kilter lyrical cut-ups: pieced together from notebooks full of overheard conversations, glanced-at ad slogans and out-of-context movie dialogue, these give rise to lyrics as brilliantly confounding as ‘My museum needs an elevator/Help me, Mr Space Invader.’ Then there’s the music itself. Pollard wears his influences on his sleeve: the opener ‘Mad Man Hype’ whirls in with ‘Tommy’-ish rock-opera bluster, and the beguiling ‘Piccadilly Man’ could have been written by Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson (given the right substances). But Pollard channels those inspirations into a sound and a perspective that’s quintessentially his own, finding the strange beauty as well as the banality in what he sees and hears around him.

That Pollard only ever leaves a few months between releases, and that he now has a repertoire pushing 2,000 songs, mean that the half-hour-long ‘Blazing Gentlemen’ struggles really to stand out against the sheer breadth of Pollard’s ongoing oeuvre. But there’s still plenty to pore over here, on an album that comes across like a few exquisite, mysterious pages torn out of an old master’s sketch book.

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