red lights


Supersonic Blimps and a Valuable
Hunting Knife to the Heart

Robert Pollard - From a Compound Eye
(Merge Records)
4 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Feb. 1, 2006
Robert Pollard

Review by Brad Walseth

His inner voices thankfully unquiet, alive, and still whispering their resonant secrets into his ear, former Guided by Voices leader Bob Pollard's first solo release since he disbanded the group name behind which he released some of the most compelling rock music of our time is a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of crunchy and crystalline treats: a double album array of sounds stretching from low down, dirty punk to pretty pop and prog, filtered through the compound heart of a songwriter who truly loves and respects the great rock music of the past and present, and who strives, often successfully, to surpass much of it.

Freeing himself from the constraints of having to be bandleader seems to have pulled the music inward and closer to the core of Pollard's vision, and as a consequence the songs exhibit a newfound solidity. The low-fi interludes and cryptic lyrics are still there (after all - who else would name one of the most beautiful pop songs ever "U.S. Mustard Company"), but the 26 songs themselves are surprisingly strong, resulting in a double rock album that is a worthy successor to The Who's Quadrophenia, and the Beatles' White Album.

There is something for everyone (or more appropriately, everything for everyone) in Pollard's compound worldview: from the haunting opener - "Gold," through the jaunty pop of "Dancing Girls and Dancing Men" (which recalls a youthful mop-topped foursome in their prime), the truly scary "The Numbered Head," the toe-tapping rocker "I'm a Widow," the gentle acoustic lilt of "Cock of the Rainbow," and the pop masterpiece "Love is Stronger Than Witchcraft." But there is much more than that; as in much of GBV's output, even the more experimental and fragmented songs have their charms that reveal themselves on repeated listening. Musings on love, mortality, children, friends, doubts and fear, laughter and loss thread their way throughout, and there have been few songs about growing old under the glare of the spotlight as reflective as "Lightshow."

Pollard's honest love of the great rock music (The Who, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Stones, Wire) saturates this multifaceted ride through the funhouse of his mind, and the resulting tears and chills his songs continue to engender on this release bodes well for the future and for fans unnecessarily worried about the retirement of the GBV moniker. Have no fear; with Bob in the pilot's chair, the blimps are now supersonic and still crash with hunting knives into the hearts of all who seek comfort and challenge in the call of his voice.

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