Album Review: Robert Pollard – Blazing Gentlemen




Robert Pollard is many things: an ex-schoolteacher; an Olympic-league beer drinker; a sports hero in his hometown of Dayton, OH; and the head of literally more bands than there are room to print the names of here (most famously, Guided By Voices). But, above all else, he’s an American treasure. A man so in love with weird rock ‘n’ roll albums that, as a teenager, he would create them from the ground up for his own amusement despite hardly having a grasp on how to record, or even how one might go about competently playing an instrument. These homemade works of art weren’t just committed to smudgy and hastily labeled C-90 cassettes, either. Pollard would labor over cover art, liner notes, and fake band names. According to legend, he didn’t even mention the creations to friends until they discovered the tapes and questioned him about them.

Of course, that was the early ’70s. In 2013, Robert Pollard is making those dreamed-up LPs for real, releasing them to a cult that hangs on his every cryptic lyric and turns every (increasingly rare) live performance into a sold-out, beer-soaked sing-along. He’s released more albums than any sane human being can be expected to keep count of and has more than 1,600 songs registered with BMI. Perhaps the most shocking part of the whole affair? Even the lesser songs are pretty damned good.

Blazing Gentlemen is Pollard’s latest platter, released on his own GBV Inc. imprint. Clocking in at barely 30 minutes, it’s full of Uncle Bob’s “four P’s”: pop, punk, prog, and psychedelia. Notably absent are the lo-fi crackles of the most famous Guided By Voices fare, with Blazing Gentlemen favoring slicker and relatively crisper tones.

It’s worth mentioning that, despite the added clarity, this isn’t standard classic rock fare by any measure. A quick listen to all 1:25 of “Storm Center Level Seven” tells the tale best: a stop-start riff that becomes increasingly herky jerky as it goes on, with each final beat of the verse’s measure being staved off longer than is comfortable to tap your foot. And, the lead single, “Tonight’s The Rodeo”? It’s less than two minutes long, just two passes of a painfully short chorus, leading effortlessly into the “bop bop bop” of the shuffling “Tea People”. Listeners might not even notice that they are now listening to a completely different song altogether.

Consistency has always been Pollard’s biggest blessing and curse. He’s such a master of sequencing that the tracks on his records — no matter which nomenclature he’s releasing them under at the time — often blend together, and you’ve got to really do some recon work to separate them mentally. Detractors will often say that for this very reason “Bob needs an editor,” but they’re missing the point. His albums are not really designed for passive listening, and the purposeful seamlessness makes the best of his releases seem like one long, gargantuan song that happens to be broken up into individual tracks for ease of indexing, many of which are over and done with before the listener can make sense of what’s going on. For this reason, Blazing Gentlemen (and many of Pollard’s other releases) are less an album than a suite.

Blazing Gentlemen is rife with the type of rock ‘n’ roll that Robert Pollard has always excelled at delivering: ragged guitar rock that refuses to kowtow to the listener. It’s here, it’s going to rock, and once you wrap your head around it, you will never find a better soundtrack to your late-night, beer-fueled wig-out sessions.

Essential Tracks: “Tonight’s The Rodeo”, “Tea People”

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