Having quickly rediscovered Robert Pollard’s artistic mojo and democratic credentials through the likeable and inventive Let’s Go Eat The Factory LP earlier this year, the reformed early-‘90s line-up of Guided By Voices returns rapidly to keep the creative camaraderie momentum rolling. And roll Class Clown Spots A UFO certainly does. Whereas its predecessor was tentative in rebuilding the GBV brand – perhaps fearing a post-reunion sophomore slump by over-delivering too soon – this sequel is a much more assured, rounded and relaxed affair. Galvanised by the refreshed power-sharing between band members on Let’s Go Eat The Factory, this follow-up more or less just gets on with being a decent lo-to-mid-fi GBV LP; high on melody but roomy enough to accommodate diversity and experimentation.
Pollard has certainly kept his songwriting pencil sharpened here to deliver a slew of infectious tuneful nuggets and bog-eyed micro-epics. Therefore, the songs he fronts across the album motor along with little distracting baggage. Hence, the Kinksy title-track bobs along with the euphoric swagger of a man just happy to be in one of the most-loved gangs in town; “Chain To The Moon” and “Fly Baby” are confident enough in their rich hooks to strip things back to an early-Elliott Smith acoustic setting; “Hang Up And Try Again” and “Jon The Croc” strut with playful ‘70s heavy-rock thrusting; “Billy Wire” ploughs along with punkoid gusto; and “No Transmission” is a fine Who-like finale.
As with Let’s Go Eat The Factory, some of the most rejuvenating revelations come from returning co-pilot Tobin Sprout. The cuts he leads here are largely no step down in terms in terms of loveability. Thus, the electro-acoustic “Forever Until It Breaks” would fit well with Lou Barlow’s best Folk Implosion wares; the gorgeous lo-fi pop gem “They And Them” could be a warped demo for Pet Sounds; “Starfire” imagines an arrogance and cocaine-free Crosby, Stills & Nash; “All Of This Will Go” feels like a joyously jangling lost ‘80s R.E.M. outtake; and the sparse piano-led “Lost In Spaces” is remarkably pretty. Undoubtedly however, Sprout’s best contribution to Class Clown Spots A UFO comes through duetting with Pollard on the transcendental indie-pop bliss of “Keep It In Motion,” the album’s overwhelming highlight.
Whilst there are a few archetypal GBV misfires inside Class Clown Spots A UFO – brought about by scattershot recording fidelity and a small imbalance in the quantity over quality ratio – overall it is still a solidly-carved collection from a bunch of middle-aged drinking buddies admirably refusing to grow up, compromise with fashion or change the contents of their dusty record collections.
Guided By Voices – “Class Clown Spots A UFO”