A new Robert Pollard album is about as surprising as spring turning into fall. Whether it’s been with the reformed-now-defunct-again Guided by Voices, a side project like Boston Spaceships or under his birth name, Pollard writes and releases music with a fair degree of consistency and a startling degree of regularity. Under the name Ricked Wicky, Pollard’s I Sell the Circus may not be up to the same gold standard as GBV’s Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, but it’s still one of his silver medal records.
Pollard’s got a handful of great ballads in his arsenal, but his strength is flexing his rock and roll muscles. I Sell the Circus is colored with the karate-kicking stage theatrics Pollard’s made a name for himself with. It’s shot through with British Invasion guitars and infectious melodies a la Guided by Voices’ “Echoes Myron” and “Motor Away.”
Now that Guided by Voices is kaput again, Ricked Wicky is a great sign for Pollard’s fans. If we’re being honest, the best part of that band’s reunion was the chance to see them live playing some tracks from their best ‘90s records. The new albums were okay, but not fantastic. In the last decade or so, Pollard’s best songs went to side projects. When you listen to a song like “Mobility,” it’s hard to write this new album off even in light of his main band’s canceled tour dates.
Adorning the cover of I Sell the Circus is Pollard’s aging, everyman visage. Considering he sounds more like himself on this record than he has even with GBV, that cover art is a pretty fitting decision. There may be a song on here called “Death Metal Kid,” but this is an album for anyone born and raised with the inherently youthful and yearning spirit of rock ringing in their bones.