Even though 2004’s dissolution of Guided By Voices had the marks of finality to it – especially with commander-in-chief Robert Pollard’s subsequent ceaseless productivity as a solo artist and a multiple side-project dabbler suggesting that he no longer needed the GBV funnel to channel his relentlessly flooding songwriting – there was still some semblance of unfinished business, albeit in a non-linear sense. For although the pre-split late-‘90s/early-‘00s line-ups of the band had indeed cut some strong LPs – most notably 1997’s overlooked Mag Earwhig! and 2002’s underrated Universal Truths And Cycles – there was something left hanging from the group’s seminal lo-fi early-to-mid-‘90s incarnation. This is something that Pollard has therefore consciously or unconsciously sought to address by reuniting GBV with ‘classic’ period veterans Tobin Sprout, Kevin Fennell, Greg Demos and Mitch Mitchell, for live duties last year and now a new record (with non-touring brother Jim Pollard joining in with the latter).
Those expecting a straight extension of the Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes and Under The Bushes Under The Stars trilogy will however be a little surprised with how Let’s Go Eat The Factory has turned out. Whilst the album has returned GBV to DIY home recording set-ups and ultra-short song lengths, it’s a far stranger and more exploratory beast than even hard-core fans might have expected. That’s not to say that Let’s Go Eat The Factory totally lacks the infectious power-pop moments that have always made GBV reach out beyond any recording-fidelity aesthetic, particularly given that the preceding single extracts “Doughnut For A Snowman” and “The Unsinkable Fats Domino” would fit well as appendices to 2003’s essential Human Amusements At Hourly Rates ‘hits’ compilation. Beyond those fleeting pure melody passages though, the album is broadly divided into three broad camps; warped jams and experiments, mercurial Pollard-led micro-epics and an eclectic suite of songs from the second-in-command Tobin Sprout.
In the former respect, the more democratic character of GBV certainly comes to the fore after years of Pollard being more of a benevolent dictator figure. The results on this front predictably vary in quality, perhaps with the reunified ensemble still relearning to work together. Thus, the filthy opening twosome of “Laundry And Lasers” and “The Head” work well as skewed Krautrock-edged garage-rockers; “Imperial Racehorsing” cuts some masterful sludge mustard; and “How I Met My Mother” nods effectively back to both Pollard’s beloved ‘60s beat-pop idols and snotty ‘70s New York punk. Elsewhere, the brittle space-blues of “The Big Hat And Toy Show” and the unplugged “The Room Taking Shape” are just the wrong side of fragmentary and “Cyclone Utilities (Remember Your Birthday)” is spoilt by off-putting vocal treatments.
Aside from the more communal-sounding entries, Pollard and Sprout also define their individualism for the remaining two tranches of tracks. Intriguingly for Pollard this appears to mean developing a Peter Gabriel fixation. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, as it provides the album with three impressive yet dishevelled elder statesman-like moments, in the shape of the string-sample-backed “Hang Mr. Kite,” the piano-pounding “Either Nelson” and the sublime drone-powered wry-doom of “We Won’t Apologize For The Human Race.” Sprout on the other hand takes more subtle and inventive routes in reclaiming his role as GBV’s second songwriter. Thus, we’re treated to the post-punk triumvirate of “Spiderfighter,” “God Loves Us” and “Waves” (which have more than just positive hints of Vs.-era Mission Of Burma), the gorgeous fragile folk-rock of “Who Invented the Sun,” the spooky sound collage interlude of “The Things That Never Need” and the hymnal synth-cloaked romance of “Old Bones.” Without Sprout’s returning and heightened presence it’s doubtful that this reunion could have been fully justified, as his pieces here make the sometimes unwieldy 21-track long-player find relative focus and distinctiveness.
Whilst ultimately Let’s Go Eat The Factory is no Bee Lanes Under The Stars – as it occasionally feels like a warm-up for a potentially stronger sequel (that is already in the works for a May release) and lacks a few portable standalone gems – it’s far from being a cynical attempt to rekindle old magic for the sake of exploiting die-hard followers. Overall, as reunion records go this is certainly no lazy phoned-in companion to more lucrative live shows, as it captures promising movements forward as opposed to just fumbled nostalgic flashbacks.
“Doughnut For A Snowman”
“The Unsinkable Fats Domino”