It took a two-disc trip down a long and appropriately winding road to bring Robert Pollard full circle, from the semi-major-label realm of TVT back to the comfy indie confines of Matador. Along the way, he traded the loose group of lager-loving Daytonites heíd started Guided by Voices with for the harder-rocking dudes in Cobra Verde, learned to love or at least tolerate 24-track recording, started writing longer songs with shorter titles, and got to make a CD with Ric Ocasek. Not bad for an old dog who didnít seem all that willing to learn any new tricks. If nothing else, the relatively reasonable release schedule TVT held the painfully prolific Pollard to gave some of us a chance to catch up on all the GBV gems Matador had pulled out of Pollardís four-track vaults. (Gluttons for pop punishment looking to remain inundated with wave upon wave of twisted tuneage had merely to dig around for the constant stream of oddly named releases Pollard quietly began churning out on his own Fading Captain Series label under various amusing aliases.)
Universal Truths and Cycles may mark Pollardís return to the label that crowned him king of indieville back when four-tracking was still "underground." And the discís opening song, "Wire Greyhounds," is one of those hook-laden teases that cuts out after a mere 32 seconds. But overall, the album is not a complete turn-around for a band who had already settled on trying to meet radio halfway. Indeed, there are more than enough fully formed guitar-driven anthems with Beatlesque overtones to keep the Gallagher Brothers on their toes. Yet there are also plenty of cryptic snippets of the kind of lo-fi songlets GBV invented on classics like Bee Thousand. Itís as if, having gained nothing to speak of from his two label-pleasing albums of more accessibly "normal" material, Pollard had come to the healthy realization that he has nothing left to lose by doing just as he pleases.
(Guided by Voices headline the Paradise with Superdrag this Wednesday, July 17. Call 617-562-8800.)