Kicker of Asses 

More beery genius from the reinvigorated Robert Pollard.

Like any patriotic, red-blooded American, Robert Pollard caught the Super Bowl a coupla Sundays back, and took particular interest in the half-time show -- the half-admirable, half-horrifying specter of Mick Jagger, still saucily dragging the Rolling Stones around at a sprightly 62 years old. And if you know Bob like thousands of devout fans know Bob, you believe Mr. Pollard when he admits to regarding the show in a somewhat hazy, befuddled mind state. "I caught him -- I wanted to make sure I did," Bob recalls. "We had a Super Bowl party here at my house. And so, like, we started drinking real early. I was kinda blind by that time."

It's the American way. "But I do remember he was kinda funny," Pollard continues. "I always have to watch the Stones, 'cause it's still funny. Especially Mick, man, how he's just gotta keep going. I don't know how he does it. I guess he keeps himself in pretty good shape. He looks kinda like a puppet or somethin'."

Bob is nobody's puppet, and though he may not emulate Sir Mick's iconic Sex-Crazed Aging Panther persona, the nearly fifty-year-old Dayton, Ohio, deity remains just as revered in certain circles. As frontman and sonic architect for Guided by Voices, Pollard is a god to the indie/lo-fi/Magnet-reading set, having infamously written, oh, 7,895,835 perfect Midwestern pop tunes, and having downed maybe twice that many beers in the course of belting 'em out live in two-and-a-half-hour marathon concerts replete with arena-worthy high-kicks and trash-talking stage banter born of artistic admiration and professional jealousy ("You sell one more record than me, you might have shit talked about you," he explains).

His sense of melody and imagery is truly bizarre and equally iconic now -- how else does a song inscrutably titled "Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory" rise to the level of beloved pop myth? But that tune (and its universally adored, majestically shabby host album, 1994's Bee Thousand) built a legacy and attendant expectation that explains Pollard's latest move: Break up the band and go completely solo. GBV's New Year's Eve '04 final concert is documented on DVD as The Electrifying Conclusion; now it's on to From a Compound Eye (Merge), Pollard's first "official" solo album.

"Solo" is a somewhat ridiculous designation, of course. Most GBV albums nearly qualify as solo projects, and Bob has done seemingly hundreds of side projects and one-offs in between. But F.A.C.E. is getting the hard sell as Bob's New Leaf, and as such it's almost a complete career retrospective, from tossed-off four-track dirges to lush, British Invasion-indebted arena rock. The ultracatchy, split-level anthem "The Right Thing" qualifies as both. And as always, the best tunes latch on a half-poignant/half-nonsense phrase and burrow it gleefully into your psyche, such as the titular declaration of "Love Is Stronger Than Witchcraft."

Booming business as usual, then, just under a new name. His own. Thus, longtime disciples will flip as usual, and intimidated neophytes -- understandable, considering the avalanche of tunes, records, and personas involved in Bob's kingdom -- still have time to catch the bus. Pollard, meanwhile, is fully reenergized. "I think I'm becoming a better writer," he says. "My structures are better. I think I'm writing prettier songs, and I think they're a little bit more serious in tone."

But not too serious. Compound Eye's highlight is the full-bore rocker "I'm a Widow," with its not terribly demure chorus I'm a widow and I'm hot to do you. Maybe he's not so different from Mick after all.


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