Odd Lyrics Fighting Good Instrumentals
After releasing an album last year, Guided by Voices returns with Space Gun, a shorter more concise effort than the previous August by Cake. In a similar fashion, a majority of the fifteen tracks on Space Gun are on the short side: the opening and title track is the longest at four minutes. Although it is not entirely clear what prompts the decision to have so many petite, interlude-length songs, it seems to suit Robert Pollard comfortably.
Song order can transform an album from a collection/playlist to a work of art, an adventure. Often times, especially with hip-hop, artists will throw in speaking interludes that tie the story or message of the album together, which usually helps. Others are complete, clear albums without such additions. Sadly, Space Gun is neither. Starting with the longest song (even though four minutes is hardly considered ‘long’ in comparison to most music), the tone is set for a weird-feeling musical trip. What follows are numerous, oddly placed short tracks that end with the listener thinking, “Oh, I guess that’s over now” or “No wait, come back! You were one of the cool ones.” And arguably, the least interesting or memorable track is the closer, perhaps only staying in memory because it is so undazzling.
An assortment of odd lyrics make appearances in this project. In “Colonel Paper,” track two, Pollard sings the phrase “Cigarette eater, eat a cigarette man” a handful of times, which, on top of his not-super-clear-but-not-unintelligible singing, sticks out and turns heads and not in a good way. It has a nice instrumental to it, as do many such as “King Flute,” “Ark Technician” and “Liar’s Box,” yet the victor in the skirmish between quality instrumentals and strange lyrics is undecided, especially when considering the following: “And the Star Wars people just look and glare / They’ve seen my field in a photograph” in “See My Field;” “Searching for you in a shitstorm” in “Blink Blank” (not a fully understood title either); “The spiders will dance” in “Flight Advantage,” a lyric sang multiple times; and basically all of “I Love Kangaroos,” a tune that rides the line of satire or not.
In a few nooks and crannies of this project lie tasty guitar sounds, satisfying two-chord progressions and even some moments that would work excellently for transition scenes in a light-hearted TV show or movie. The instrumental that follows that scratching sounds in “Space Gun” sets the scene for adventure. “Ark Technician” sees a reluctant hero (a Han Solo type, say) doing what he doesn’t want to, but knowing he’ll ultimately feel good about it and the pinch of free-spiritedness in “See My Field” is calming yet incites an end to laziness. However, and this is an opinionated matter, Pollard’s voice (which sounds like a generic impression of an aging rock singer) impedes the emotional effectiveness of almost all of these songs. Luckily, the album fares slightly better after that first listen, but Guided by Voices is a band whose semi-niche sound relies heavily on its loyal fans, since that community is not likely to grow anytime soon.