Former Guided By Voices frontman and current solo artist Robert Pollard puts out records with the frequency of a well-oiled factory machine. In Pollard’s case, this is not always a beneficial thing for him or his fans. With both Guided By Voices and his solo albums, Pollard seems satisfied to simply distribute every track he records.
Many critics and fans have deep respect for Pollard’s seemingly spontaneous lo-fi aesthetics, and entire books have been written on the GBV hallmarks “Bee Thousand” and “Alien Lanes.” The Strokes cunningly borrowed much from GBV’s sound and then created music and an image that was more commercially friendly. Recent bands such as Times New Viking have obviously been influenced by Pollard, but have used his music as a more innocent, playful blueprint than the Strokes.
Pollard’s most recent solo album “The Crawling Distance” starts off promising: the opening track “Faking My Harlequin” has guitar chords and bass lines that could comfortably fit on a Sonic Youth record. As the album progresses, however, the music and particularly the lyrics feel less and less inspired. A typical Pollard lyric can be found on the song “It’s Easy”: “It’s Easy/ Safe and please us/ Tax exempt with Touchdown Jesus,” vague and overreaching at the same time.
Music magazines have sometimes pinned Pollard the man as a down-to-earth guy who likes to buy drinks for his fans at the local bar. This description of Pollard’s real-life character contrasts with his music: most of his songs have a lurking element of gloom. After all, this is the man who has written songs with titles as charming as “Tractor Rape Train.”
Maybe this is because most of Pollard’s songs sound as if they were recorded in a damp, dimly lit basement. Even a seemingly hopeful line on the album’s “The Butler Stands For All Of Us” feels shrouded by the next verse: “Everything’s rounder and longer and safer and stronger/ It pays to know who you are”.
By the time of the closing track, “Too Much Fun,” Pollard has taken his faux-Brit vocals to a place where they almost sound like an unhappy Bruce Campbell trying to do Roger Daltry impressions and the listener’s patience is tried for good. “The Crawling Distance” goes to show that Pollard’s frequent musical output is a great example of more being much, much less.