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The Exquisite Pollard Drinks The Young Wine

 

Guided by Voices: Universal Truths And Cycles

Matador, 2002

Rating: 4.0

 

 

Posted: June 23, 2002

By Laurence Station

After leaving indie label Matador following 1997's Mag Earwhig! for a shot at the big time, complete with top of the line studio production and formal producers (Ric Ocasek for 1999's so-so Do The Collapse and Rob Schnapf on 2001's solid Isolation Drills), Guided by Voices has returned, not only to Matador, but back to the basics as well: self-produced albums of lo-to-mid-fi recording quality. The end result is Universal Truths And Cycles, not so much a rehash of the band's incredibly fertile mid-'90s period (Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, Under the Bushes Under the Stars) as it is a refinement of the DIY aesthetic that (up until the previous two releases) had been GBV's hallmark.

Throughout his ludicrously prolific career, GBV lead singer/songwriter Bob Pollard has always appeared to be playing a never-ending solo version of the old surrealist parlor game cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse). Universal Truths And Cycles continues the tradition of wonderfully idiosyncratic song titles and abstract lyrics that Pollard has consistently managed to transmute into catchy Britpop-inflected tunes. ("Wire Greyhounds" and "Factory of Raw Essentials" rank right up there with such classic song titles as "Hardcore Ufos" and "Bright Paper Werewolves.") Lyrically, Pollard proves as strong as he's ever been, mixing interpretive-immune lines like "Eyeline the driveway/ Eye black the door/ Sky all around me/ Levels life from roof to floor" (from the infectious rocker "Everywhere With Helicopter") with more intimate, personal lyrics such as those found on the yearning, heart-rent "Storm Vibrations:" "Does it hurt you/ To love, I mean?" The power pop, full-bodied sound of "Cheyenne" and the straightforward, near-anthemic "Back to the Lake" are album (and possibly career) highlights, along with the loose, jam-oriented "Skin Parade" and the tossed-off, improvisational immediacy of the closing "Father Sgt. Christmas Card."

Throughout, Doug Gillard's guitar work proves equal to Pollard's songcraft, especially on the steady buildup to the blistering rocker "Christian Animation Torch Carriers" and the subtle support offered on the brief, elegiac "The Weeping Bogeyman."

But as with any of the hyper-creative Pollard's work, there's always some chaff lurking amidst the wheat, and Universal Truths And Cycles is no different. "Wings of Thorn" lacks the distinct musical structure evident on the other tracks, coming off as generic filler rather than a useful addition to the overall song cycle. And the title track is uneven and poorly fleshed out.

Nonetheless, Universal Truths And Cycles stands as one of Guided by Voices' strongest and most cohesive releases, showing that Pollard and Co. took what they gleaned from working in the high dollar studios and applied it to the anything-goes recording environment they're clearly more comfortable with. It's a welcome return to form for one of indie rock's leading lights.

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 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
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 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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