erasing clouds

Robert Pollard, Robert Pollard Is Off to Business

by dave heaton

Robert Pollard Is Off to Business is a great title for his first album since leaving Merge Records for his own label. It suggests he’s getting down to work after a fair amount of playing. And playing around is something anyone with even a passing awareness of his ample recent work would definitely accuse him of doing lately. Evidence #1: His recent Superman Was a Rocker, which had him digging up fuzzy old rehearsal tapes and singing over them, seemingly impromptu.

Right from the start, though, the music on Robert Pollard Is Off to Business fits the title. The first six songs are especially focused rockers, songs that in their guitars, punch, melodies, and especially their vocals are reminiscent of Pollard’s Guided by Voices past. Pollard’s vocals on parts of “The Blondes” and “Gratification to Concrete” weirdly sound like his vocals on some of the earliest GBV albums, the ones on Box. These songs are not just retreads, though. And they don’t really resemble the quick arena-rock and twisted-pop of the “classic” GBV era. More like meaty, powerful three-or-four-minute rock songs in the vein of his better recent solo albums and the final couple GBV albums.

The seventh and eighth songs, “Confessions of a Teenage Jerk-Off” and “To the Path!”, trip off into the netherworld a bit more, spacing out – somewhat but not entirely successfully. “Western Centipede” again packs a strong punch, though. The melody Pollard’s singing gets haphazard at times, but with guitars playing such strongly melodic music that it ends up feeling like a hit anyway. The closing number “Wealth and Hell Being” does a heavy crunch-daze thing that isn’t usually my favorite Pollard mode, but he’s singing this lighter tune over it that works brilliantly with the tougher music. The last lines of the song are “Need I throw a new coat on a boat of fading color / Say yes to me”, an interesting bit that could be taken as his seeking encouragement for pushing along with making his style of music.

That’s the way I’m taking it, at least, when you consider its flip side at the beginning of the album. Opener “The Original Heart” is one of his most direct songs about the music business, about pushing along in this blog era. It’s almost a manifesto. “Got to get back the original heart”, he decides. Robert Pollard Is Off to Business is by no means the riskiest album he’s made, not even recently, but at its core it shows he’s serious about that route – about creating music that has heart and mystery to it, that people can spend time with. He’s off to that business of making music that people can listen deeply to and turn up on their car stereos. Music that’s the opposite of disposable.

Honestly, though, this album should have been titled Robert Pollard and Todd Tobias Are Off to Business. Pollard’s recent collaborator Tobias played every instrument on this record. It baffles my mind why that is, as Pollard is a great guitarist himself, plus he’s had a knock-out band of musicians touring with him lately. Equally mind-boggling is how the music here isn’t a band but one person. At the same time, Pollard is singing here better than he has in years, so if that’s what it takes, so be it.


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