GUIDED BY VOICES
UNDER THE BUSHES, UNDER THE STARS
by Simon Reynolds
Guided By Voices offends me. In this age of cultural overload and aesthetic surfeit, GBV is monstrously, disgustingly prolific. The band averages about 24 songs per album; last year, GBV put out a four-CD 'Box' of early, frankly dubious material; singer/songsmith Robert Pollard has a backlog of some 2000 tunes, but is still planning to write a 'Tommy' style rock opera. Who among us has a life empty enough to accomodate such a glut of undistinguished creativity?
GBV is basically America's very own Oasis. Both bands are led by incorrigibly incontinent songwriters who are morbidly obsessed with English rock of the mid-to-late Sixties, and who have nothing to say but insist on saying it. If--in the age of mostly instrumental, studio-warped genres like trip hop, jungle, post-rock, ambient etc--you're gonna stick with a craft as quaint as songsmithery, you should at least make sure you have something compelling or uniquely idiosyncratic to say. Oasis don't, but are at least shameless about it: Noel Gallagher's lyrics are a jumble of doggerel and epic-sounding phrases that allow fans to read whatever they like into them. But with Pollard, you can't be absolutely sure he has nothing to say, because every expression is convoluted and coded; he gets in the way. Titles like "The Official Ironmen Rally Song", "Bright Paper Werewolves" and "Rhine Jive Click" are the most daftly, wilfully oblique titles since Amon Duul II (who at least had LSD as an excuse).
Another similarity with Oasis is GBV's relentlessly upbeat mood: a neo-mod, bright-eyed poptimism that proclaims "it's 1966, the future is wide-open!". In England, such empty triumphalism elevated Oasis into a huge pop phenomenon, by tapping into young kids' desire to fly in the face of grim present reality. In America, GBV's Anglophile/necrophile quasi-anthems make the band a hit only with rockcrits and others steeped in the canon of classic rock (and thus able to appreciate the reverence and the references). Everything on "Under The Bushes" is tuneful in that deja vu, Tom Petty/Sebadoh way, while the riffs trigger your kneejerk-reflexes, conditioned by years of exposure to classic rock. And so the stop-start dynamics of "The Perfect Life" thrill mildly, in a oh-alright-one-more-time-then sort of way; "Underwater Explosions" is the Monkees on downers; "Atom Eyes" is as melodious as an American Squeeze. Can I be the only listener for whom half-liking a GBV song is unavoidably accompanied by shame?
GBV is just one more fat fly crawling over the dungheap of rock history, sucking it up and pooping it out. "Under The Bushes" is just one more dropping in a copious trail of disgrace.