Image from an advertisement for Bon Ami washing powder, 1932
I'll say right up front that I have no "distance" when it comes to classic-era Guided By Voices. Those albums were a big part of my life in that part of your life where things can be impossibly big. So a new Guided By Voices album, recorded by the full "classic" lineup (Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos, Kevin Fennell, and Jim Pollard), is almost too much of a thing to write about. Perhaps the most wrenching part of the experience for me is that I can really see the connection between Let's Go Eat the Factory and those albums - it's like the last fifteen years are irrelevant when these guys get together and make music.
Let's Go Eat the Factory seems to grow naturally from the last Guided By Voices LP - 1996's Under the Bushes, Under the Stars - which at the time was an unxepectedly dark, stitched-together, sprawling thing of beauty. Like that album, Let's Go Eat the Factory has a handful of perfect (and perfectly miniaturized) pop singles ("Doughnut for a Snowman", "The Unsinkable Fats Domino", "Chocolate Boy", "We Won't Apologize for the Human Race"), as well as over a dozen more surprising and wonderful pop experiments. Tobin Sprout's contributions are important here as well (as they were on Under the Bushes), including dense, droning rock ("Waves"), fragile ballads ("Who Invented the Sun"), and even a track that does the former and then suddenly the latter (the brilliant, two-faced "Spiderfighter").
The one development I see, though, is that Guided By Voices is not interested in delivering any "Anthems" with a capital A this time out, which is odd considering Robert Pollard's inspirations and instincts - Let's Go Eat the Factory has no "Official Ironmen Rally Song". As a result, this album comes across to me as the most direct tribute to Pollard's beloved Wire (circa 154) ever recorded by the band, flipping the switch between dark art-rock, delicate piano minimalism, and concise pop (it's a three-way switch, okay?!?) It's an inspired choice for Pollard and the boys at this point in time, but not an obvious one - the question is this: why wouldn't Pollard use the reunion media buzz to put out a more straightforward rock album for the curious masses? The answer is simple: because he's Robert Pollard and he doesn't care what anyone thinks. He's going to follow his muse - if this one doesn't hit the spot for you, there'll be another. Seriously, there's going to be another Guided By Voices album released in the next six months or so, titled Class Clown Spots UFO. Watch for it.
In the meantime, if you're an old-school Guided By Voices fan, there are moments on Let's Go Eat the Factory that will give you the chills. When the opening bass notes of "The Head" rattle Kevin Fennell's drum set audibly, when the high-harmony vocal comes in halfway through "Doughnut for a Snowman", when Pollard conjures the cynical, sneering ghost of John Lennon on "Hang Mister Kite", you'll feel that old lo-fi magic.
"Doughnut for a Snowman" by Guided By Voices