Album Review: Guided By Voices – It’s Not Them, It Couldn’t Be Them, It Is Them

Back once again with the renegade masters. I used to think The Fall were prolific with their working class based policy of an album a year, and they were more-or-less professionals whose sole job it was to entertain the masses. Robert Pollard, main man with GBV has written and recorded thousands of songs, and released a fair few of them, sometimes as GBV, sometimes under his own moniker, not to mention a myriad of other band projects, all while holding down a full time job as a teacher and a father, not to mention husband and heavy drinker! And apart from the occasional low point, manages to maintain the focus and the brilliance that marks his 30 odd year output. Like The Fall, everyone has their own favourite period or album and they nearly always deliver the goods, always changing, always the same, and also like the Fall they operate a swinging door policy on membership, but with one man remaining throughout.

So this is their 34th album and their second one this year (the previous album Earth Man Blues being released in April). They seem to be averaging about 3 a year, even managing to make one of them a double (Zeppelin Over China). They don’t make it easy to follow/collect as there’s so much of it, and some of their earlier limited releases are rare and getting rarer. My advice when starting out (with either them or The Fall) is just pick one and take it from there, and you’d be just as pleased picking this one as you would from their earlier works… they’re all good. You’ll hear the classic GBV traits – the sharp stabs of Who inspired chords, the surreal strains of Peter Gabriel, the immediacy of The Ramones, the pop sensibilities of The Psychedelic Furs and The Cars and the exuberance of Husker Du, except here and there they have also incorporated strings (“High In The Rain” and “Black And White Eyes In A Prism”) and trumpet, which at times gives a Tijuana Herb Alpert feel (“Spanish Coin”), and at others a middle of the road Mancini vibe (“The Bell Gets Out The Way”), giving vent to a more dramatic, epic edge to seep out of the cracks, especially on a song like “Black And White Eyes In A Prism”, which is already fairly heavy, but the drone strings give it more of a lava flow edge, and “Chain Gang Island” which ends with a moody swirly mellotron and heavy plucked strings like something off  Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.  “Maintenance Man Of The Haunted House” has a malevolent spaghetti western feel and “Razor Bug” gets somewhat Beefheart weird, but mostly we’re on familiar ground with “Dance Of Gurus”, “People Need Holes” and “I Share A Rhythm” sounding more classic GBV, with the latter being a bonafide live classic already, even before they’ve played it (not sure about the drums just pulling out before the song ends though). “My (Limited) Engagement” even sounds like an early GBV song, the wonderful “Jane Of The Waking Universe” from 1997’s Mag Earwhig! album.

Guided By Voices should by now have been inducted into the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame. They are as essential and as American as Grateful Dead, The Band and REM. Time will look back on their tenure and their output kindly. Some of their early albums are already receiving re-issues and recognition, so let’s celebrate them while they are still with us, because one day it might be too late.

It’s Not Them, It Couldn’t Be Them, It Is Them is out today on GBV Inc Records

Find out more on Guided by Voices’ official website

Review by Andrew Wood

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