Album Review

Guided by Voices - Half Smiles of the Decomposed

Guided by Voices - Half Smiles Of The Decomposed

After releasing about twenty records over twenty years, shuffling the lineup twenty times, and playing more than 1,000 live shows, the absurdly prolific Robert Pollard is retiring his sort of legendary, almost famous rock band Guided By Voices on New Year's Eve 2004 at a club in Chicago. But not until leaving their zealous fans with one of GBV's finest records.

So what in the name of Maybelle Carter is a band that was the principal architect of American indie-rock in the '90s, with their surrealistic Syd Barrett-esque lyrics and a sound based on '60s British Invasion and American garage rock (especially the showmanship and experimentation of the MC5), doing in these here pages? Well, I have a theory, based on unscientific polling, that GBV is a favorite with the type of music fanatics who read this magazine. Why? Maybe alt-country fans appreciate GBV's respect for tradition (rock history) and also their risk-taking spirit of invention.

At a more basic level, GBV may win you over by taking a smart and often intricate musical idea and then simply pummeling you with it until you submit. Pollard crams more good ideas and pop hooks into one song than many writers do into entire records.

Let's start with "Girls Of Wild Strawberries". It is a typical GBV two-and-a-half-minute pop gem with chiming guitars and overlapping acoustic/electric rifts that run through the entire song with such catchiness that it sticks in your head like a great Beatles song, say "Paperback Writer". The following track, "Gonna Never Have To Die", begins (like a lot of GBV compositions) with one vibe, here a big anthem rocker, then takes an unforeseen wonderful fork in the road, this time a searing, extended acoustic guitar solo. Next up: "Window Of My World", a gorgeous power ballad that radio would be lucky to have.

The closer, "Huffman Prairie Flying Field", is vintage GBV: equal parts Who and Stooges, toss in some vintage Replacements, over-the-top modern-sounding bass and drums, references to aviation, a huge chorus, and Pollard's lyrics, which perfectly conclude the band's DIY legacy: "But if that's what you think you heard/Then that's what you heard/And if that's what you want to hear/Then that's what I will sell you."