Guided By Voices – Universal Truths and Cycles

Guided By Voices
Universal Truths and Cycles

We’re not going to waste any words here today. If you like Guided by Voices, you will like Universal Truths and Cycles. It is as simple as that. Thank you, and good night.
Okay, I doubt DOA would publish such a concise review, so let’s go ahead and waste a good 600 or so words anyhow, just for the sake of being, well, verbose. Honestly, if you like Guided by Voices, if you own their previous records or have ever enjoyed their live show, then you will most likely enjoy Universal Truths and Cycles. Old Man Pollard and his crew have reached that point of permanent over-ness that only the most egregious of misfires will alienate their fanbase (see 1999’s Ric Ocasek-produced Do The Collapse). Simply put, Pollard is the Ric Flair of indie-rock, and thus he will always sufficiently entertain his loyal legions. I am just such a fan, and therefore this record entertains the shit out of me.
There are a few things you are pretty much assured of when going into a new GBV record. You know that some songs will have unwieldy, Dungeon and Dragons-inspired lyrics, or sometimes an awkward melody, and, at the same time, you know that some songs will be absolutely amazing and will remind you why you started listening to rock and roll in the first place. The sometimes bewildering – yet consistently fantastic – song-craft is a given. Since 1996 or so, the big question going into a GBV record hasn’t been “how are the songs,” but instead, “how does the record sound?” Is it another stab at 64-track, Big Rock Glory, or a return to the olden days of tape hiss and cassette four-tracks?
Well, dear fan, Universal Truths resembles 1996’s Under the Bushes, Under the Stars more than any other GBV release, shadowing both that previous record’s positives and negatives. They both have similar production values and both sound more like Cheap Trick than other GBV albums. Both of these albums, Under the Bushes and Universal Truths, while not as hi-fi as Do The Collapse or 2001’s superb Isolation Drills, feature production technically superior to such all-time honest-to-God classics as ’95’s Alien Lanes and ’94’s Bee Thousand. This middling production can be more of a detriment than a boon, however; without the gloss of a mainstream polish job (overdone on Collapse, but utilized effectively on Isolation Drills), and without the fuzzy character and charm of the garage-studio days, GBV records can come across sounding sort of limp and undercooked. Universal Truths is anything but bland, but it lacks the spark and vitality found in Alien Lanes, Bee Thousand, Propeller, Vampire on Titus, and various singles and EPs from that same early ’90’s time period.
Of course, the songs are faultless. Although there’s nothing as immediately all consuming as Isolation Drills‘ “Glad Girls” or Collapse‘s “Teenage FBI” (or even the Fading Captain Series tune “Pop Zeus,” from Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department), Universal Truths still possesses several brilliantly catchy and massively satisfying rock songs. “Cheyenne,” “Back to the Lake,” and “Everywhere with Helicopter” all deserve a slot on that deluxe three-disc GBV mix CD you’re making for your special little so-and-so, and hell, those first two would maybe even make a single-disc best-of retro suite. The sub-minute “Love 1” returns a degree of hard-edged psychedelia that runs throughout Bob’s work but that never surfaced on the last two official GBV records. Other songs are good in other ways, and nothing is ever all that bad, and in fact everything is at least all right enough for Universal Truths to score serious considerations as being one of the more consistent GBV albums. Yes, commander!
So Universal Truths and Cycles lives up to the GBV pedigree. It may not be as good as Isolation Drills or Alien Lanes or Propeller, but it is solidly on par with Bob’s second tier of work, like Under the Bushes, Choreographed Man of War, and Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department. There are no surprises on this record, and that is a good thing.