Of all the bands that have reformed in recent years, Guided By Voices return in 2010 not only seemed the least surprising, it felt inevitable. After all, frontman Robert Pollard never truly went away. Pollard officially disbanded the group at the end of 2004 following its "final" album, Half Smiles of the Decomposed, and a "farewell" tour. But in the seven years since, the impossibly prolific indie rocker has released a staggering 13(!) solo recordings. Even for the most devoted of fans, it can be hard to keep up.
Perhaps the more surprising detail in GBV's return is the reunion of the band's so-called "classic" lineup from 1993 to 1996 — including Charles Mitchell (guitars), Greg Demos (bass), Kevin Fennel (drums) and most notably multi-instrumentalist and co-writer Tobin Sprout, who reportedly left the band in '96 after a falling out with Pollard. While only a few years, this era arguably produced their best work. And by reuniting, the influential indie rock band appears to be making strides to strengthen its legacy after a long absence. Guided By Voices originally got back together last year for an anniversary concert for its longtime label, Matador Records, but that soon turned into a full-on reunion tour. Now, after touring behind older material, Guided By Voices finally has a new record, Let's Go Eat The Factory, an album of short, lo-fi pop songs that fit right in with the band's repertoire.
Let's Go Eat The Factory is, for better and worse, a prototypical Guided By Voices album — it's 41 minutes long and has 21 songs, with the shortest ("The Things That Never Need") clocking in at less than a minute. Comparatively, the longest, "We Won't Apologize For The Human Race," at four minutes lasts an eternity. Robert Pollard never ceases to have another 20 new ideas in his back pocket and he tends to write and record so quickly that these nuggets with a lot of potential are abandoned before they have a chance to be further crafted, let alone earn a second verse. As a result, many of his records, both with GBV and solo, can be somewhat inconsistent. Still, while Let's Go Eat The Factory is less a complete album than the latest batch of songs, there's plenty to like — a melodic hook, a lyrical phrase, a killer guitar riff, some grungy power chords.
The strongest songs are those that feel most developed: There's the opener, "Laundry And Lasers," a brash fuzzed out banger; "Spiderfighter," a twangy rocker that shifts to a soft piano ballad; "Old Bones," a haunting pop song accompanied by synths and keyboard strings; and "Waves," a droning shoegazer with muffled voices and thrashing guitars, but also the most sonically interesting. There are also several great shorter songs that could certainly be fleshed out: "My Europa," with its dreamy twang and the jangly "Chocolate Boy," which is easily the catchiest song on the record.
While Let's Go Eat The Factory may fall short of fan expectation and living up to the magic of Guided By Voices' best work, it's at least an encouraging step. Like so many GBV and Robert Pollard albums, this collection is a snapshot of where the band is at this exact moment, some stuff works, some doesn't. But it certainly succeeds in capturing the immediacy of Robert Pollard and company's creative process. All that said, they're hardly leaving us much time to dwell on any one song too long. True to form, Guided By Voices plans to quickly follow up Let's Go Eat The Factory with a second record of new material in May 2012 and Pollard has yet another solo record of his own coming in March. They just can't help themselves.
-- By Mike Katzif, NPR Music
Let's Go Eat The Factory will be available to stream on demand from December 19, 2011 through Jnauary 4, 2012. The album will be released January 17, 2012.