Record Review - 1 July 03 2002

Slouching uncomfortably into middle-age, cold Bud in hand, Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard seems to be divorcing himself from any debate as to his continued relevance as indie rock’s tipsy everyman pedagogue. Instead, he continues to go about the business of hammering out catchy post-punk chorus after catchy post-punk chorus, culled from a seemingly boundless internal songbook that has grown increasingly formulaic of late.

And that brings us, conveniently enough, to GBV’s latest, Universal Truths and Cycles, which marks Pollard’s return to the Matador label after a shaky two-album stint with TVT. You’d think a reunion with the folks who sponsored GBV’s finest moments might light fire under Pollard’s butt. But as it happens, nothing much has changed. The album’s 19 tracks comprise a familiar pockmarked patchwork of half-finished trifle and wannabe epics, all of it set to lyrics that pepper cryptic personal asides and random notes-to-self with universal half-truths and profoundly unfocused gibberish.

Sound familiar? Well, it should. Universal Truths fairly reeks of deja vu, from the convulsive chord changes and momentum shifts that drive the heavier stuff to Pollard’s quavering delivery and semi-random minor-key strumming on the acoustic numbers. Perhaps in attempt to generate traces of the friction between craft and impulse that defined his finest Matador work, Pollard has poked holes in the dense wall of guitars that enveloped GBV’s previous two releases. But the refined lo-fi touches feel half-hearted. And while a nifty track like “Cheyenne” proves Pollard can still hook a listener in three-minute fits and spurts, Universal Truths is, for the most part, a reluctant acknowledgement that GBV has nowhere left to go but back.

Guided By Voices play the Echo Lounge Tues.-Wed., July 9-10.??