Pollard's claim (invented entirely by Incendiary, I hope you understand) as to being the next artist to enter the pantheon of genius (sitting alongside such luminaries as Holger Czukay) has been strengthened considerably by Fiction Man."
More knowledgeable Guided By Voices fans will be able to set me right on this, but I am sure that this solo album was recorded before, or at the same time as, the last ever Voices album Half Smiles of the Decomposed. Whatever, we on Incendiary view it as his first official solo release. And guess what? We also view it as fabulous.
Pollard's claim (invented entirely by Incendiary, I hope you understand) as to being the next artist to enter the pantheon of genius (sitting alongside such luminaries as Holger Czukay) has been strengthened considerably by Fiction Man.
The song writing on Fiction Man contains so much of everything we come to expect from him but with all the twists and quirks that throw you the listener off balance.
The opener "Run Son Run" is a stop start guitar affair reminiscent of late Guided By but with a more menacing feel. It's quite suspicious, actually. "Expect A Kill" kicks in with the synth intro off Joy Division's "Transmission" before opening up to become a sinister story with set in a farm machinery prodution plant. The softer acoustics on "Sea of Dead" are able to disperse the formidable feeling of paranoia the first two tracks have managed to build up. Still with a title like "Sea of Dead" its hardly smiles all round. "Children Come On" is one of Pollards best songs in his oevre, I feel, and shows his considerable talent for writing extremely fragile, gossamer thin love songs.
The harsh metallic clang of guitars is back with "the Louis Armstrong of Rock & Roll". There's a real feeling of being in a factory with this album. Its an arty noise being thumped out here, but not in the sense of it being fey or mannered, rather it is intelligent and uncompromising in its delivery. It's very American in texture; there's lots of steel and power involved. Its also full of contrast, and epic sweep. "Losing Usage" is a battle between two street drinkers where "Built to Improve" is a total contrast. A very lonely track, and lacking the gap toothed grin of the previous song, it brings to mind Blakes image of Isaac Newton under water, full of skewed andturgid reasoning.
Pollard's talent is to inhabit the sound scapes he creates with characters that are convincing and suspend disbelief. They're never really just songs. "Conspiracy of Owls is a case in point; there's such a freedom of movement inherent in the music, a certain something that enhances the title - you couldn't imagine a song called "Conspiracy of Owls" sounding like anything else. Its led and informed by the piano and strumming guitar, a combination that blossoms into a beautiful synth-led conclusion. "Its Only Natural" is a brilliant sparkling hymn with an acerbic guitar run for company. "Trial of Light Affliction and Light Sleeping", by contrast, is full of anger and urgency; helped by the claustrophobic guitars, sounding like a super paranoid take on the Talking Heads song "Animals". Captain Bob states that he needs a tour guide for his own head. Yep I can agree with that.
The next two tracks are softer by turn; "Every Word in the World" and "Night of the Golden Underground" are lovely, personal, acoustic numbers, something of a speciality on this album by the look of it. Last up "Biggest Win" leaves in fine rousing style, a true salty salute.
So Captain Bob might have closed the Guided by Voices factory down, but, on this form, I think we are all going to be happy with what the future holds. All hail Captain Bob!
Words: Richard Foster.