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Doing the collapse

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Guided By Voices leader Bob Pollard recently explained his decision to bust up his band this way: He'd been waiting for years to make a perfect album, and now that he'd finally pulled it off, it was the ideal time to bring down the curtain.

Half Smiles of the Decomposed, reportedly the band's final studio release, isn't exactly perfect, but then again, the very notion of perfection is contrary to Pollard's gifts.

Pollard has always been an unruly, exasperating savant who let his listeners do his editing for him. At his mid-'90s high-water point (Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes), he distilled the exhilaration of British Invasion pop into short bursts of lo-fi tunefulness. The result was like a transistor-radio version of the early Who (complete with Pollard's inexplicable but endearing faux-British accent) for people with short attention spans. Unfortunately, Pollard also indulged himself with whimsical, half-baked nonsense that mucked up GBV's albums but added to his cult legend as a prolific oddball.

CD
Spotlight







Half Smiles of the Decomposed
Guided By Voices
(Matador)
At the same time, GBV had an alternate identity onstage, where they were big, loud, and stadium-ready. In recent years, Pollard has attempted to bridge the gap between the group's studio and stage selves with concessions to polished production and conventional song length. For every hooky gem ("Teenage FBI," "Glad Girls"), there were creeping signs of blandness setting in.

Half Smiles falls resolutely into the band's ultra-professional late period, but it's one of their best efforts from this phase. Most songs are longer than necessary (Pollard's absurdist surrealism works better in bite-sized doses) and song titles like "Tour Guide At the Winston Churchill Memorial" and "Huffman Prairie Flying Field" are considerably more imaginative than the songs that accompany them. But the pure, sunny pleasure of the jangly "Girls of Wild Strawberries" and the pulsating "Asphyxiated Circle," to name just a few of this record's highlights, bodes well for Pollard's imminent solo career. - gilbert garcia

By Gilbert Garcia


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