Phew. This was hard work. Obviously I’d heard of Guided by Voices but I hadn’t actually, consciously, heard any of their music. Which is a good thing – it meant these jaded ears came to a long-established, albeit colourfully chequered, act with a completely untainted, non-biased point of view. I can’t even recall ever having been in company discussing where GBV have come up – that’s how unprepared I was for Let’s Go Eat the Factory.
The background – after a fifteen year hiatus, the “classic line up” of Guided By Voices (Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos, and Kevin Fennell) finishes off its year-long reunion tour by releasing an album of new songs, deliberately choosing to return to what bandleader Robert Pollard calls the “semi-collegial” approach of iconic GBV albums like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. According to their press, “Let’s Go Eat The Factory is much more than a mere return, however: sprawling, variegated, heavy, melodic, and yet still recognizably and coherently Guided By Voices in both its literal and mythic senses.”
A band with both a literal and a mythic state? This couldn’t fail to be intriguing.
And in a way it is. There’s a lot going on in the record. It’s good – albeit very difficult – to be able to say something original about a band and their music but with each passing track I was hearing more and more echoes of other bands. I’d already decided not to read anything about the album online before listening so I had to wait until I’d finished to see if it was just me who thought it sounded like a party involving – at various stages – Superchunk, Pavement, Big Star, Black Sabbath (!), Dinosaur Junior, Foo Fighters and early REM. It does appear to be just me, however, who thought that part of one track could easily have sat on a Dean Friedman album (track 4, ‘Spiderfighter’ – heartfelt piano musings set against the rumbling punk growl of the first half of the song).
It seems, having checked out their other stuff online, that this offering is something of a ‘typical’ GBV album- should such a beast exist. That, if you’re a fan, is no bad thing. Having recently bemoaned the fact that the nevertheless excellent Black Keys album El Camino doesn’t sound like classic two-man Black Keys and is, for me, too much of an evolution from their early offerings I certainly can’t complain when a group doesn’t stray too far from their original blueprint.
That said, I can’t see Let’s Go Eat the Factory amassing too many new devotees for the Ohio outfit. In my first-listen scribblings I see that I’ve noted the word “fuzzy” a few times to desribe the sound of the songs, the phrase “early REM” crops up quite a bit too. At 21 tracks this is certainly a value for money offering I guess but too much is more filler than killer. The Unsinkable Fats Domino has a Foo Fighters meets Frank Black hook which grabs the attention as does its “water’s not drinkable” rhyme. For me, despite being the standout track, Chocolate Boy never really matches the intelligence or melodic structures of the classic-era Dinosaur Jr. it’s so clearly aspiring to.
Let’s Go Eat the Factory, when all’s said and done, is little more than a scrappy, doggedly lo-fi, collection of half-thoughts and almost-ideas; fragments as variable in quality as they are in style. As they say, “one for the fans”