Review: Guided By Voices – Class Clown Spots a UFO
Published on July 9th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Album title of year so far? Apart from Fiona Apple’s new one, that is.
Following on from January’s so-so Let’s Go Eat the Factory, this second serving from the reunited ‘classic line-up’ is certainly the best Guided By Voices album of the year, without quite matching the shambolic splendour of albums such as Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, which for better or worse are still nigh-on impossible not to mention here.
“He Rises! (Our Union Bellboy)” makes for a rousing, chiming opener – a relative epic at just over three minutes, in fact – which acquires a nocturnal air of wonderment before crashing back into Bob Pollard and co’s time-honoured stodgy lo-fi. This solid start is then consolidated by the rollicking, jagged rocker “Blue Babbleships Bay”, the big, psych-y lead guitar riff of which recalls The Flaming Lips’ “Halloween on the Barbary Coast”, and the gently driving, sun-kissed psychedelia of Tobin Sprout’s “Forever Until It Breaks”.
The title track then becomes the third track out of the first four alone to clock in at over three minutes, doing good by its lyrical refrain of “up as we go now” with bouncing, brassy verging-on-soul pop and an a capella interlude. It is marvellous, but arguably sets too high a standard too soon.
GBV aficionados might be surprised to hear the attempts at vocal harmonies on “Chain to the Moon”, which incidentally reminds a bit of “Gold Heart Mountain Top”, while the scuzzily punky “Hang Up and Try Again” wields such a classic GBV guitar sound that you might as well [insert ’90s-related activity here].
The breezy and ruminative “Keep It in Motion” has a loveliness about it that was lacking on Let’s Go Eat the Factory, not to mention some more charmingly ramshackle harmonies, and it leads straight into the drunken but purposeful sludge-rock of Mitch Mitchell’s Pollard co-write “Tyson’s High School”, which brings to mind some sort of cross between Hawkwind and early Pavement.
Sprout then continues his sterling contributions to the album with the back-to-back “They and Them” and “Fighter Pilot”, the former sounding like vintage British psych-pop, so un-GBV-ly ornate with its string, brass and piano, the latter as silly as some uber-stoned Ween outtake with its daft muted vocal (are any South Park fans reading reminded of this?).
“Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head” registers like one of the less memorable numbers off Alien Lanes, and the ensuing “Billy Wire” like one of the stronger ones, smartly placing a trippy midsection in between bursts of grizzled power-pop. You may then be struck by the delicious string hook of Sprout’s “Starfire” and wonder if GBV have ever come as close to sounding like Love (the band fronted by Arthur Lee, not the emotion). Sprout, it would seem, likes his ’60s psych, and Class Clown Spots a UFO sees his songwriting, er, sprout wings. (Sorry.)
“It’s never the worst, ’cause it always gets a little better” we are reassured on Greg Demos’s Pollard co-write “Fly Baby”, the acoustic fingerpicking, lo-fi background hiss and tender vocal of which amount to a magical, mysterious beauty, before “All of This Will Go” (another of Sprout’s) and “The Opposite Continues” go on to remind of early Kinks and early Super Furry Animals respectively, the latter specifically recalling this lost gem.
We then have the pared-down, slightly-shambolic-but-strangely-charming-with-it, a fifty-second piano piece titled “Lost in Spaces” that features the sloppiest of sloppily double-tracked vocals, and finally the crashing and authoritative “No Transmission”. All in all, it’s another Guided By Voices record that sure ain’t perfect but has enough good stuff on it – occasionally very good – to make the whole exercise worthwhile.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!