From SP #3 (July '99):
Here's the review of Guided By Voices "Do The Collapse" from issue #3 of SHREDDING PAPER fanzine, along with 300 other record reviews. (considerably shorter ones) It should be interesting to see how this interactive record review page develops. Thanks for your participation!
Guided By Voices - "Do The Collapse" CD 16/43:53
Everyone thinks Guided By Voices is my favorite band, when in reality I'm someone who prides myself in not having favorite bands. Oh screw it, they are my favorite band - I admit it. Hey, they did the "Alien Lanes" album, and they can bask in the glory of that seminal masterpiece for a long time to come in my book. The band essentially broke up following the release of "Under The Bushes, Under The Stars" three years ago. Bob Pollard continued to use the band name on a subsequent album, "Mag Earwhig", which he recorded with the Ohio band Cobra Verde, who also toured with Bob under the name Guided By Voices to promote the album. With the debacle that was "Mag Earwhig" behind him, Bob has once again put his unrealistic show biz aspirations ahead of his music with yet another album, with yet another line-up, still using the GBV moniker. Considering that Pollard has a legitimate claim as the greatest music maker of a rapidly expiring decade, perhaps this latest overblown and ultimately failed shot at fame and fortune warrants examination one track at a time. (1) "Teenage FBI" - Ric Ocasek of the popular late '70s band The Cars produced the album which explains why the opening track sounds like "Just What I Needed". The production really fleshes out this popular staple of the band's live shows in recent years. "Teenage FBI" is the oldest song on "...Collapse", and the only one which GBV previously recorded. The previous version of the song was out quite briefly on a three song 7 inch, and although it was excellent, the new take is even better. The synths add a lot and a great arrangement tacks on some new dynamics that get the most out of an already great song. It's a hit. (2) "Zoo Pie" - It's hard to make out the lyrics here due to a filtered distortion effect on the vocal, and the guitar sounds like it was sampled from the "White Album". It's a slow one, and every time it starts to rock it slows back down. Not a bad song, but it never seems to pick up a head of steam, and coming on the heels of "TFBI", sounds like a lesser effort. A poor sequencing choice. (3) "Things I Will Keep" - A strong pop song which, for no apparent reason fades in over the last note of "Zoo Pie". It's a polished pop tune, complete with some cool big time professional rock n' roll guitar riffs along the way. There's some double tracked lead vocal, which is used sparingly on the album. Late in the game some very cool backing vocals pop into the left channel for a too brief appearance. (4) "Hold On Hope" - This ballad is a monster that reminds you how gifted a songwriter Pollard is. The vocal is perhaps a bit more radio friendly than one that one that would deliver the knockout punch, but the compromise still kicks ass. This song could be a prime cover opportunity for any country and western artist in need of a hit. Nashville take note - first one to it gets a gold record. Personally, I think this should have been the single off the album. (5) "In Stitches" - A lethargic plodder marked by various weird effects thrown in the mix and a long guitar solo to close it out. I guess they took their best shot at making a so-so song interesting, but it really goes nowhere. (6) "Dragons Awake" - Starting with Pollard's speech-like vocal center stage, with acoustic guitars strumming both left and right, this really sneaks up on you once the string section kicks in. Great song! Something seems to be missing though. It could be that it's over too quick, like most of the good moments on "...Collapse", or maybe it's the lack of Gene Pitney on lead vocal. (7) "Surgical Focus" - This one's a mid-tempo melodic number that's the type of tune the Beatles would have written for "Revolver". It's been a crowd pleaser since the new GBV lineup introduced it more than a year ago. Maybe the song is better than this version turned out, but the synth drum sound really doesn't work here. This tune would have come off better if it sounded like a real band were playing it. The vocal here, and in too many other songs on the album, is quite compressed in both dynamics and EQ, and It sounds like it was pieced together from numerous vocal takes to smooth it out, which loses something in the phrasing. That's unfortunate, cause Bob is a heck of a vocalist, and a lot of that is lost on "...Collapse". It's a decent song, but drags on a bit too long. (8) "Optical Hopscotch" - Bob enters into the arena of fluffy psych-pop, and it makes for decent filler, but that's about it. The chorus sounds like Beatles circa "Magical Mystery Tour". (9) "Mushroom Art" - Clocking in at 1:47, this one is over before you notice. Sounds like something off "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway", unfortunately not as good. (10) "Much Better Mr. Buckles" - Yet more poetic rock that doesn't go for the big hooks, but invokes a fair share of drama with some out of phase vocals, some nice harmonies and snippets of the BIG guitar sound, not enough though. (11) "Wormhole" - Another song that harkens back to the psych-pop era, but like most of Pollard's attempts at retro-rock it's not all that good or all that bad, and it still ain't Genesis. (12) "Strumpet Eye" - Bob finally lets loose a bit on the vocal - it's about time. Not one of the better songs here, but at under 2 minutes it's at least a change of pace. (13) "Liquid Indian" - This song serves as a reminder that the synth sounds designed to fill all the wholes in the mix can really wear on you when you have to hear them song after song. This is another poetic semi-spoken one, saved only by the layered vocals on a wall of sound chorus that would make the Hollies proud.
(14) "Wrecking Now" - The newest composition on "...Collapse" is a bona fide try at a catchy tune. A great song, but it seems to fade out before it really gets going. The production isn't very imaginative, and it's too bad they didn't have more time to work on it, cause this sucker could have rocked. (15) "Picture Me Big Time" - The album's longest song at 4:01, this starts out good but then meanders. Never should have seen the light of day at this length. (16) "An Unmarketed Product" - A fast tempo contributes to the brief 1:08 running time, segued right out of the previous track, a feature sure to annoy me at least 9 times out of 10, and piss me off when I have my CD player set on random mode and don't hear the proper beginnings and endings. This is over-produced, a song that would have worked as one of those short in between songs on "Alien Lanes", but as a full blown studio take of a one minute song, tacking it on the end of the album may not have been an aestheticly sound choice. The fairest comparison I can make with "Do The Collapse" and another GBV album is to "Under The Stars...", since that was GBV's other attempt at a full blown studio sound. I'd say that both have a lot to offer, but "Under The Stars..." has a stronger and more consistent collection of songs, due in large part to the contributions of Tobin Sprout. "Collapse" only has a few songs to rival, "Atom Eyes", "To Remake The Young Flyer", and "It's Like Soul Man", which Sprout contributed to "...Bushes". The production on both albums is fairly effective, although the new one suffers from some real repetitive sounds that get on your nerves after repeated listenings. The album could be trimmed of some of the weak moments; it would play better at a dozen songs. Still, there would be the problem of what to do with "Teenage FBI". It seems to overshadow everything else, not because there aren't other excellent songs, but because it's the one song where Ocasek's production totally works. The remainder of this work makes Ocasek look like a one trick pony of a producer. I'm glad that after the setback of "Mag Earwhig" Pollard is writing great songs again, both here and on his recent solo effort "Kid Marine". I'm sad that he and Tobin Sprout aren't working together, because together they created the brightest moments in American music in the '90s. Hey guys, at least think about it.
GBV's strengths have always been dual -- in the four trackin' basement, and on the stage. On DTC, Bob
chooses to shoot the wad with Ocasek behind the knobs.
Most of the time, this CD works, on the strength of
Pollard's melodic genius. But I agree, the pacing and
sequencing of this CD appears to fail next to Under
the Bushes or Alien Lanes...
Wrecking Now is lovely, Dragon's Awake grows on you.
In Stiches needs repair, and Hold on Hope is a weepy
one for the girls. Go see the band live, and wait for the official live
LP release. This band rocks live.
(New York City)
I love the album and appreciated your review. I agreed with most and
will listen to things mentioned that I hadn't noticed on my own. I
disagree on two counts:
Under The Bushes is a horrible album with a few good songs.
Mag Earwhig is a great album with a few klunkers.
Interesting that we agree on so many finer points but are on opposite
ends on some bigger.
Thanks for your review!
Ric Ocasek does flesh out GBV's sound. But Pollard's songwriting is
irresistable. 1999 saw many excellent records come out, but I have to put
Do the Collapse at the TOP! Richard (NC)
You know something I'm getting tired of, people whining about the new band vs' the old band. Sure I love "Bee Thousand", "Alien Lanes", "Propeller" even "Vampires on Titus, but if they continued making four-tracks in Tobin's garage, that's where they'd be now. "Under the Bushes,Under the Stars" was the first attempt at a big studio album, (besides the early years of the group) The worst thing about this album was there were no lyrics enclosed with the album. My first reaction was; where is the fun and looseness from "Alien Lanes", and why are the songs so long? It took me a while to get around to listening to it after my first listen, I just set it aside. But one day I had to drive somewhere that would take a lot of time,so I brought it with me, I listened to it with nothing else going on, but of course driving. I found that it was a great album, but it seems to go on and on, but that's a good thing. "Mag Earwig", spotty, but great anyway. by spotty I mean: there's a short song, there's a long song, there's a short song, there's a long song. "Do the Collapse", sorry I think this is a fantastic record, If everyone puts away the idea of what a Guided By Voices album should be, they will love it too. When the Beatles did "Sgt. Pepper" "The White Album"and some of their best stuff, all the fans didn't go crazy for their "new crazy acid rock", no matter what people say now in hindsight. because in hindsight we will not only see how great this album is, but the genius that is Robert Pollard. By the way, if you want lo-fi try the Fading Captain series. "Kid Marine" and "Speak Kindly of your Volunteer Fire Department" are very good, but again after a couple listens. I saw Guided By Voices live nov.12th & 13th, Los Angeles and San Diego, unlike the tightness of new album, they were raw sounding like the old band, but they were better musicians, I missed Tobin singing background and Mitch spinning around and I would have liked to hear more old songs. but finally a lead guitar player, they were great shows, so don't miss out. There is a lot of recordings of the old band, even videos, so get behind Guided By Voices so they don't become a forgotten band, like a lot of those bands in the 80's, that only wanted to go as far as an independent label, and their fans who when they bring up the band people say "who?". (though I doubt that would happen with Guided By Voices) So remember; "GBV GBV GBV" Matt R.
Rule number one with virtually all new GBV albums: the first listen is almost always a disappointment. The hooks don't hook, the songs seem contrived, and the inevitable reaction is, Wow, Bob has finally run out of inspiration, and is resorting to formula--this sounds like a weak one. But after two or three more listens, all of a sudden the songs start to make sense, the hooks sound like classic McCartney-esque pop, and you realize that the guy really is a genius. Some critic once wrote that the best GBV album is always, "the one just before the new one." I suggest that all critics bear these facts in mind when listening to a new GBV for review purposes, and give a couple extra spins before you slam down the lid. I didn't care for Mag Earwig at first, but now I can't remember why. I'm sure DTC will be another GBV classic by the time the next official release comes out. Mark W., Richmond VA
My five year old daughter sits in the back seat of the car and sings along
with "Teenage FBI", "Hold On Hope", and "Wormhole". Enough said!
David B., Augusta GA
I think "Do The Collapse" is yet more ample proof that Robert Pollard is
the best songwriter of the decade, as well as the most prolific. I
especially love "Surgical Focus", cos I've been waiting in line for
this, now that it's taken forever I insist.......Antony P, Invercargill,
You just keep buying them up as fast as he can knock em out. Return visits
to half favoured purchases are still gonna throw up all sorts of hooky gems.
6 years after its release you whack on "...The Collapse" and you spend the
next month at work with the lines " with surgical focus" running on a loop
in your head. Personally I can't shake the Tractor song from "Bee Thousand"
- "better yet lets all get wet"and so on. Magic. I don't expect to ever be
rid of it! The point is that there is probably something for everyone on any given Pollard penned limb. Each new one he tosses off is another much needed fix for us. Being into GBV doesn't follow the same conventions as being into other bands. Don't even try to justify the worship you lay on them. It just is. And to be honest, I can't say as I ever really notice the changes in
fidelity from album to album as I'm used to the quality jumping about from
song to song. It's all part of the game. A word of warning though - Avoid the " Nightwalker" album from the Fading Captain Series, it's Tom Tit! I'd like to hear you whistle one of them. Adam
H, London, England
I think that most of us have a sound in our head of how we want our
beloved GBV to be and I am no exception (the production on DTC was too
slick a hard rock sound; aim for somewhere between "Under The Bushes.."
material and the track "Fly Into Ashes" and you've got it made boys).
However, that's mainly due to the material being so good and the
recording quality so bad for so long. There's nothing wrong in wanting
them on the radio and being able to turn them up on the car stereo
without fear of getting tinnitus. Bob Pollard deserves recognition after
so many years and it would be a crime if he doesn't get it. He's one of
the greatest songwriters since Lennon and when I hear tracks like "As we
go up, we go down", "Get Under It" or his recent masterpiece, "Slick as
Snails" I realise why I fell in love with music.
There are cries of sell-out but there was always going to be. Fuck them
and all the non-believers. Spread the gospel of Bob and educate the
masses. There's only so long that someone can be underground without
wanting to see the light.
Here's one almighty salty salute to you Bob. Have a beer on me.
Mat A, London, England.
Can I add two cents for the "it's all good" viewpoint? I am not one of the ones who "have a sound in our head of how we want our beloved GBV to be." Fidelity, and the number of tracks on the record, are overemphasized. If it's a Pollard song or a Pollard/Sprout song, it's all good. Pollard could hire Robert Goulet and Anita Kerr to be his band for all I care. I love both the lo-fi and hi-fi versions of "Don't Stop Now" as though they were my own children. I love "Bulldog Skin" equally as much as the "Liar's Tale", and I love the produced albums just the same as Vampire on Titus. It's the tunes and the melodies and the hooks and the lyrics - the songwriting transcends any and all media, and Bob's songwriting is never less than amazing!! Kevin C, San Jose, CA.