Guided By Voices - Half Smiles of the Decomposed


Shit, it happened.



Shit, it happened. GBV have split and this is their last album. I have the honour to review it, and I will treat it as such, 'cos, whatever the merits of this particular piece of work, they are without doubt the GREATEST, most inspiring, hardest, most intelligent, funniest, cleverest, art-rockiest (meant in the best way), US band of the last 20 years. I love 'em. It also allows me to draw a picture of Bob Pollard with animals, which I have been itching to do for a while. Long term Incendiary readers questioned my sanity after my review of their Paradiso live show last year. I can only say that I am disappointed that I didn't eulogise them more. And, to be frank; I think it is a failing of this liberal democracy that schoolchildren are not forcibly (under fear of expulsion, or eating dead frogs besmeared in oil paint), made to commit ALL of GBV's lyrics to memory. But I digress.

Maybe it's the album title, maybe it's the picture of the setting sun on the back cover, or the choice of collage that adorns the front, entitled "Ashes to Ashes", (and culled from Pollard's indispensable book "Eat"): it all gives the game away, doesn't it?

It's a funny ol' thing though, this last album. On first listening I was thinking that it was a good thing they were splitting, they did sound weary and Bob Pollard seemed to lack his customary vocal energy and enthusiasm. However, the more, (and less subjective), listens that have been afforded this album in our gaff, the more the record has proved this punter wrong. It's a classic, though of a very different order to previous GBV works; gone is the full on power-strum bravado and noisy thrash-outs of Earthquake Glue and Isolation Drills. Replacing it is a pastoral, more rounded, acoustic feel, occasionally ripped apart by a mad guitar chorus or hollered howling from Mr. Bob. I almost detect a "return" to, (or maybe a recognition of), earlier, 1980s GBV efforts, such as "Devil Between My Toes". This feeling is further given weight (to sum up, M'Lord), with the return of old band members, such as the GLORIOUS Tobin Sprout, and Jim Pollard.

Cases in point are the brilliant "Girls of Wild Strawberries", "Gonna Never Have to Die" and "Asia Minor" where the balance, acoustically, has much more of a dynamic to it than the last couple of albums. I love the backwards guitar in "Sons of Apollo" and so should you, too. A lot more heartfelt, too, I suspect; and this really comes over in the lyrics,  (actually, my ONLY gripe is the lack of printed lyrics; usually a regular feature of the GBV album); when Pollard is singing, as he does on "Second Spurt of Growth". "A second spurt of growth will come about me/Don't doubt me", you have to wonder if he's talking about the band. Oh well...

They leave in fine style, "Huffman Prairie Flying Field" is classic 1980s GBV melodic thrash, with Tobin Sprout adding textured, lamenting guitar. It's all too much for this reviewer, like some Olympic athletes I won't mention, I'm finding this all too much to take really. So I'm telling you, possibly the greatest band of their era and milieu is gone, and a darkness (but thankfully not The Darkness) descends on one small corner of Leiden. No flowers please.

Words: Richard Foster

Illustration : Richard Foster