Guided By Voices: Class Clown Spots a UFO

Guided By Voices, Class Clown Spots a UFOGuided By Voices: Class Clown Spots a UFO
Class Clown Spots a UFO is Guided By Voices‘ second album of 2012 and it marks the band’s return to its drunken, shambling roots. As on their mid-90’s masterpieces Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand, Class Clown finds the band long on inspiration and short on time. With the longest of the album’s twenty one songs clocking in at less than three and a half minutes, singer-songwriter Robert Pollard is as content to let a brilliant idea go nowhere as he has ever been, ignoring the conventions of song structure in favor of delivering unvarnished gems, snippets that shimmer in spite of their rough edges. Class Clown is as uneven as it is inspired, sputtering on the runway as often as it soars. “Fly Baby,” for example wants to haunt, but trips over its own simplicity. Failures like these would be frustrating if Pollard’s songwriting didn’t distill the last forty years of rock so warts-and-all succinctly – from the shimmering, jangle of R.E.M, as on “Forever Until it Breaks,” to the kicking crunch of Cheap Trick, as on “Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head” – and there wasn’t the ever-present promise of warped greatness waiting around the next corner or the potential for a different mood to present Pollard’s ambiguous lyrics in a whole new light. To the extent that any pattern can be discerned from Pollard’s cryptic writing, there are more than a few references to traveling the unknown skies in Class Clown‘s song titles. These titles, specifically the album’s last two tracks, “Lost In Space,” “No Transmission,” and the title track, a possible allusion to the party animal who finds a reason to get serious, provide a strangely tidy narrative of Pollard’s career to date and his approach to creating. The piano-driven “Lost In Space,” despite being only fifty-one seconds long, is a touching examination of the elusive quality of greatness. True greatness is easy to spot, but hard to describe, and therefore hard to replicate.”You make great things better, and these things I’ll never know,” Pollard sings delicately. The album closer, the anthemic “No Transmission,” is about the difficulty to communicate. Successful communication depends not only on the speaker’s ability to convey a thought, but on the listener’s receptiveness to hear the thought. “No transmission/not to begin/no transmission/not till the end/your decisions/keep me down and out again,” he sings triumphantly, as though anyone unwilling to hear him is losing out, which is not his problem. GBV’s charm has always been their ability to follow their muses, however strange, with a breezy casualness. Though GBV speak in puzzles both musically and lyrically, they remain inviting because they approach it with a lack of seriousness, a throwaway attitude. If at this stage in his career, Pollard is pondering the life he spent trying to communicate and the legacy his art will have, common concerns at this stage in the game, Class Clown Spots a UFO is proof that those concerns don’t have to translate to the late-career preciousness that has plagued many artists in their latter years. The Guided By Voice output remains both bizarre and bountiful.
Rating: 7.4/10
MP3: Guided By Voices “Class Clown Spots a UFO”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl

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