Robert Pollard is an older man.
Pollard spent 14 years as a kindergarten teacher in Dayton, Ohio. Pollard sings in a fake Brit-pop accent. According to rumor, he has not known a moment of sobriety since 1986.
Pollard used to write melodious songs, catchy tunes. He is, essentially, the voice of Guided by Voices. And Guided by Voices’ 12th album, Isolation Drills, falls short.
Guided by Voices once reinvigorated independent music with lo-fi shenanigans. And, while a new score of upstart songwriters are pushing the indie envelope, Pollard has opted, at the age of 43, to make a big, conventional rock record. But the rock ‘n’ roll spirit does not seem as alive within the band.
Isolation Drills, simply put, lacks the vitality of its do-it-yourself counterparts. Just like the album title, Pollard and the rest of the band seem to be going through the motions, trying to find what’s lost amid the muck through a combination of introspection and alcohol.
One wonders what Pollard is really saying when he sings “I am the one does it; Unspirited.” Maybe Pollard has grown more wise. Maybe he has grown weary, maybe not. With an album spotted with such lines such as “The cup is running over, I am hypnotizing the highway, I am baptizing mad rivers,” it becomes tempting to view Pollard not as Midwestern slacker-sage turned rock-God, but rather as your favorite uncle who feels the pangs of the bottle and impending old age: he used to be so cool.
But, is it fair to use the quality Guided by Voices’ previous albums as a Geiger counter against its current endeavors? Probably not. Pollard is still pretty cool.
Isolation Drills is not the same kind of frazzled magic heard on previous Guided By Voices records. But, Isolation Drills is the good-time rock ‘n’ roll music that has become part of the band’s signature.
Relatively speaking, Isolation Drills is a relief. With songs such as, “Chasing Heather Crazy,” which hearken back to the Guided By Voices of old complete with hooky riffs and infectious melody, Isolation Drills provides a welcomed antidote to an insipid rock scene dominated by drudgery and anger.
The similarly high-spirited “Glad Girls,” is endearing with its silly-ass tautology.
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Pollard may be a freak on a leash, but he’s not base. Having proven himself deft and insightful, Pollard’s economy of lyrics often soar and penetrate, as demonstrated on the tracks “How’s My Drinking” and “Sister, I Need Wine.”
Pollard insists the band is all about having fun, and that’s okay in my book. While Isolation Drills may be one of the most uneven, hit and miss records in the Guided By Voices oeuvre, it nonetheless gives airwave-dominant rock one, and only one, bad-ass, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll star leg-kick to the chops.