No one can accuse Robert Pollard of slacking off. The singer and songwriter is capping off the year with his 10th full-length album since 2011: four with Guided by Voices and six on his own. That Pollard is prolific is without question, but he is perhaps too prolific—or at least not choosy enough about the songs he’s including.
Pollard has demonstrated his pop instincts over and over in a career stretching back more than 25 years, showing a particular affinity for setting fully formed, insidiously catchy songs alongside weird sketches and fragments that stand perfectly well on their own. Blazing Gentlemen shows flashes of that Pollard, on the hooky nugget “Storm Center Level Seven,” or in the brawny, serrated guitars that carry opener “Magic Man Hype.”
Those flashes are dismayingly inconsistent, though. Too many of the 16 songs here consist of Pollard intoning his lyrics through a wash of churning guitars, rather than setting them to the nimble melodies that have made him one of indie-rock’s most consistently irresistible songwriters. This is the guy who managed to string together the words “Tractor Rape Chain” (from GBV’s Bee Thousand) with a melody that bubbles up in your brain like a musical acid flashback, and made “I Surround You Naked” (on his solo album From a Compound Eye) seem like far less terrifying a concept than it should have.
This time Pollard frequently sounds tired or disengaged. He trudges vocally through a haze of droning guitars on “Red Flag Down” and matches his voice to the lurching guitar riff on “My Museum Needs an Elevator,” which shifts through different sections without ever really charting a course. That’s the case overall for Blazing Gentlemen, which too often comes off like a rote exercise instead of an inspired undertaking. It is, of course, entirely possible that recording 10 LPs in two years is stretching the bounds of creativity—most bands don’t reach that tally in a full career. By this point, with nothing really left to prove, Pollard can—and should—be picky about what he releases. The point, after all, is to leave them wanting more.