Guided By Voices, Inc. (2012)
This one was supposed to mean something. Guided by Voices "broke up" in 2004, but Robert Pollard basically is Guided by Voices, and he never stopped putting out records. In fact, he sped up, releasing something like 30 albums since the split. Even the most diehard Pollard fan can be forgiven for tuning out around 2007. The GBV name on Let's Go Eat the Factory's label indicates two things to those fans: this is the first record to feature the "classic" Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes line-up since 1996, and this is the first Pollard album to deserve the GBV moniker since the break-up. At least that first one is true. These are the same craggy Ohio elders who played on the band's best material, including Tobin Sprout, the singer-songwriter who once held down the George Harrison spot opposite Pollard's one-man Lennon/McCartney. Factory doesn't entirely squander the goodwill built up by their recent excellent reunion tour, but it's not significantly better than the standard Pollard solo album of the last decade. It's a bit grittier, attempting to re-create the four-track grumble of the mid-'90s, but the songwriting isn't here. Even the best Guided by Voices album alternated instant classics with mediocre spot-holders, but Factory is almost entirely the latter. A handful of songs are solid enough to wind up on your next Pollard mixtape, like the Who-esque stomper "The Unsinkable Fats Domino" or the endearingly lazy "How I Met My Mother." Sprout steals the record, though, contributing the two best songs: the warm fuzzy pop of "Waves" is the most GBV has ever sounded like the Clean, and "God Loves Us" embeds the vocal hook to the Icicle Works' "Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)" in a classic one-minute burst of drunken lo-fi swagger. Maybe it's time for Pollard to be the sideman for a record or two.