Robert Pollard - Blazing Gentlemen (Fire Records)

Even on his lesser releases, Robert Pollard remains utterly mesmerising

Released Dec 9th, 2013 via Fire / By Simon Harper
Robert Pollard - Blazing Gentlemen (Fire Records) Guided By Voices frontman and lynchpin Robert Pollard is notoriously restless. His prolific output would shame practically any other artist, and while even the most recent releases from his much-loved band have strayed from being essential listening, you can usually rely on a new Bob Pollard-penned record containing enough nuggets of ideas to provide some worth.

Before GBV reunited with Let’s Go Eat the Factory, released right at the start of 2012, Pollard somehow managed to juggle his solo records with albums by notable projects including Circus Devils and Boston Spaceships. He has such a singular and recognisable songwriting voice that it’s sometimes hard to remember which artist name it is on the sleeve, and there are snatches of Blazing Gentlemen which could easily have appeared in any of these guises.

And that’s part of the beauty of his songwriting, even when - as with stretches of this latest release - it doesn’t stand up to past glories, because he knows and plays to his strengths, however consistently inconsistent he might be. The sweetly melodic ‘This Place Has Everything’ barely lasts for a single minute, yet it captures the essence of everything that makes Pollard such an intriguing and often frustrating figure, with glimpses of magic surrounded by the truly workmanlike.

At its best, though, this outing finds Pollard sounding reinvigorated. The title track especially is a typically strident slice of anthemic rock; it’s a punch-the-air moment cloaked in a cocksure riff and strutting delivery - a hugely entertaining distillation of the kind of 1960s and 1970s British rock staples that have proved so influential on his songwriting. Few of the songs here match such heights, but there’s a lot to be said for good will, and on the basis of past triumphs Pollard deserves to be indulged more than many.

Like most of Pollard’s output of recent years, this collection of songs is a curate’s egg - the listener’s never too far away from a glimpse of his extraordinary nous for a riff or a hook, even if it means sitting through plenty more solid yet unspectacular offerings to get to the real gems. Blazing Gentlemen is overall too uneven to be a good starting point for complete newcomers to the Pollard canon, and doesn’t reach for the same kind of greatness which has permeated his most satisfying records. But it ought to please devotees, and is nevertheless a timely reminder of why he remains such a fascinating - and revered - songwriter, flaws and all.