38. Guided By Voices – The pipe dreams of instant Prince Whippet

/ Everywhere with helicopter, Matador, 2002

‘I have this huge catalog of melodies in my head, and I’ve heard it all, the Merseybeat thing, late ’60s psychedelic, glam rock, prog rock.  I was there for it all.  So that’s all part of me, Guided By Voices’ name refers to all those influences.  That’s what the ‘voices’ are.’ – Bob Pollard, 2001, from Mouthing off: a book of rock & roll quotes, courtesy of GBVDB – Guided By Voices Database.

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How do you get your head around the monstrous discography of Guided By Voices and Robert Pollard if you’ve not been lucky enough to follow them and him from the start?  This is after all a man who outdoes even Andy Partridge in terms of laying everything before the listening public, boxing up his unreleased material in accurately titled Suitcases; a man whose songs require not simply websites but a database as well.  And while Andy Partridge presented XTC’s offcuts retrospectively, Bob Pollard has also chucked things in as he’s gone along that might have better been left out, meaning that GBV LPs are a mixture of brilliantly realised songs and incomplete drafts, pop gems studded among dashed-off impressionistic works in pencil of the scenes immediately at the forefront of Pollard’s musical mind.  Music obviously pours out of Bob, but not always accompanied by meaningful lyrics; frequently he falls back on surrealism and nonsense, words chosen for their colour rather than their sense, mapping the territory between ‘I am the walrus’ and the Happy Mondays’ Squirrel and G-Man.

At least you need not trust the summary appraisals of others, or risk playing album-lucky-dip – the obvious place to start, if not with the mp3s below, is Human amusement at hourly rates: the best of Guided By Voices.  To judge from the albums I’ve subsequently invested in, GBV are pretty shrewd assessors of what constitutes their best work, a task in any case made easier by those rattled-off sketch-songs.  Though the inconsistency and sketchiness is frustrating, I think you have to live with and understand it as a necessary part of Robert Pollard’s pop art.  Besides, there’s a kind of joy to be had as fully-formed propulsive pop suddenly rears its head after a couple of so-so songs.

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‘The pipe dreams of instant Prince Whippet’ is a miniature that was offered up alongside 2002’s Universal truths and cycles.  Its brevity is typically Pollardian – old English mod pop played with a North American looseness.  Play it twice and you have a perfect three minute pop song.

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