Guided by Voices, ‘Class Clown Spots a UFO’ – Album Review
Guided by Voices do not stop. Well, they did, briefly, from 2005 to 2010 — but the reunited GBV are churning out the albums once again. The band’s eighteenth (!) album is the curiously titled ‘Class Clown Spots a UFO,’ a surreal journey of 21 songs.
This is nothing new for Robert Pollard. The band’s central member has been penning scads of songs since 1983 in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. GBV have been through it all: putting out self-financed basement tapes back in the ’80s and a rise to fame in the ’90s with mentions in Rolling Stone and Spin, but never that radio hit. (Radio, it seems, doesn’t care for eccentricity.) And, finally, there was a breakup and a reunion is the 2000s, which brings us to today.
‘Class Clown’ is not too different than other GBV efforts, and it is certainly not on the level of 1994 classic ‘Bee Thousand,’ but it does supply 40 minutes of sonic adventure, with crisp, abrupt sequencing.
Our journey begins with the almost alt-country ‘He Rises! Our Union Bellboy,’ and next, a Jack White-style riff animates ‘Blue Babbleships Bay.’ The albums takes an introspective turn with ‘Forever Until It Breaks,’ which has the luxury of a synth. Fancy!
Things get goofy again with the title track, which has reportedly been floating around in the GBV catalog for decades. Regardless of origin, the riff, harmonies and hand claps make for great big’ 90s era indie pop. ‘Chain to the Moon’ is again musing and meditative, with vocals matching one another, full of sadness and chained lovers. The sighs turn to screams with ‘Hang Up and Try Again,’ a B-side of spaced-out version of the Who.
The pop jangle returns for the breezy pop of ‘Keep It in Motion,’ and then the grunge sludges through with ‘Tyson’s High School. And then there’s pop again (what harmonies!) with ‘They and Them.’ The minute-long ‘Fighter Pilot’ is a glimmer of weird and ‘Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head’ is even shorter — but much more coherent.
‘Billy Wire’ stands out for actually being catchy, minus that trip-out breakdown in the middle. ‘Worm / 7 Broken Hearts’ is as eerie as the title suggests, and ‘Starfire’ just as coruscating. ‘Jon the Croc’ is menacing, multi-par and reptilian, while ‘Fly Baby’ is pensive and simplistic.
‘All of This Will Go’ sways with a lovely, philosophical chorus, suitable for your local college radio station — probably the album’s most memorable song. The pleasantries crash into the distortion of the gang-shouted ‘The Opposite Continues,’ while the madness recedes (slightly) for ‘Be Impeccable.’
The final two tracks serve as a conclusion of sorts: ‘Lost in Spaces’ has a kind of cosmic loneliness to it, and ‘No Transmission’ takes that dread and channels it into post-punk growl.
An inch deep and a mile wide, ‘Class Clown’ suffers from both being too short and too long. There are a few standouts here, like the title track and ‘All of This Will Go,’ but the majority of this feels unnecessary. If this somehow isn’t enough, another Guided by Voices album, ‘Bears For Lunch,’ approaches in November.