Waved Out (Matador)
by Nik Rainey
A funny thing happened to me while I was trying to come up with something new to say about Guided by Voices’ pop automat Robert Pollard on the occasion of his new “solo” album, Waved Out – call it a revelation, late for dinner ’cause it’s been boozing up in the practice space again or Ishmael, but a certain, immutable fact staggered into the light and it only took forty-six “group” albums, ninety-seven EPs, three hundred and twenty-six singles, four thousand nine hundred and twelve compilation appearances and three instrumental snippets available by telepathy only to realize it: There is absolutely nothing to say about Robert Pollard. Oh, believe me, we’ve tried to skate around that fact for years now, grasping at whatever silly straws we can bend to our liking, prattling on about the fact that he toiled in almost total obscurity for a decade or two before becoming an overnight sensation, how he’s older than the combined ages of any three of our readers, how, if songs were women, Wilt Chamberlain’d be blushing, how his records tend to have worse fidelity than our Chief Executive, etc., etc., but it was all just a smokescreen. Truth is, as reflexively brilliant and endlessly prolific as Pollard remains, for a guy that puts out as much as he does, he’s the biggest rocktease around. He gives us nothing, not a scrap of his inner life or even a cleverly coded set of evasions that wind up being just as revealing. Listen, I’m not asking that the guy become the male Jewel or nothin’ (though, granted, it’d be easy to do: move into a van, do a few saline shots and get somebody to knock you in the chops to misalign your teeth); soppy singer/songwriter confessionalia burns as big a hole in my gut as I’m sure it does yours. But I do find it remarkable that a cat who’s knocked off as many hissy ditties as Pollard can go so long without even dropping hints as to what goes on there in his mind (ding! Congratulations, you correctly identified the Velvet Underground reference of the issue. Ten points and on to the lightning round…). Even Robyn Hitchcock, to cite one of the more obvious comparisons, started letting his guard down after a while and copped to the fact that sometimes a fish reference isn’t just a fish reference; for my part, after contorting myself into a variety of new geometric shapes trying to prove that Pollard’s lyrics are “evocative,” “surreal” and whatever other adjectival fooferaw we crits carry in our arsenal, the scales have fallen from my eyes: the shit’s all gibberish, nothing more. (Representative example: “Has there been a break today,/Stoned comedian Ringo?/Shall I put the plates away?” Booze up all you like, Bobby, but Just Say No to lyric sheets.)
None of which means that I don’t enjoy Waved Out; other than the fact that Pollard’s indulging his tuneless prog tendencies a little more frequently these days, he still keeps those interludes short and to the, ahem, point and intersperses them wisely in between the deathless pop head-wagglers (“Subspace Biographies” being the acme), and the variety of different studio circumstances makes for an ever-pleasing sonic potpourri (the same as can be said for most of GBV’s stuff over the years, though the poles in that continuum are a bit farther apart than “sounds like hell” and “sounds like shit” nowadays), but it all seems a bit empty, just another batch of tunes from the chronic noisemaker when really you hope he’d just run out of influences so we can see if the music machine’s got a heart somewhere beneath that thick savant skin. Until that day comes, he remains the ever-present Robert Pollard: you love him, but I doubt you’ll ever know him.
(625 Broadway #1004 New York, NY 10012)