Guided By Voices
Let's Go Eat the Factory
3 stars (out of 4)
The reformation of the most successful version of Guided By Voices in 2010 was noYt exactly major tabloid news. But on the planet of indie-rock, one felt a tremor. This, after all, is the version of the world's most lovable purveyors of Brit-obsessed garage rock that gave us albums like "Bee Thousand" and "Alien Lanes," both considered full-on classics by thirtysomething dudes with beards who stay out late on weekends drinking cheap beer in dark rock clubs. Led, of course, by the unstoppable song machine Robert Pollard, the classic GBV also counts among its ranks Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos and Kevin Fennell. "Let's Go Eat the Factory" is that roster's first release since 1996.
The world may have shifted on its axis a dozen times since then, but in GBV-land, the song remains deliciously the same. That means lo-fi punk, thrashing "Sell Out"-period Who spinoffs, and the deliriously barely-in-tune pop cotton candy that Pollard seems to spin like spider webs in his sleep. Each song clocking in right around the 2-minute mark, or less, which means that all 21 of "Factory's" songs cross the finish line before 43 minutes have passed.
This is an album crafted to appeal to the base, but without too much apparent effort -- the beauty of GBV (and everything Pollard has done with his non-GBV time) lies in the manner in which the band tosses its pearls before the swine as if doing so is really no biggie. That we can get gems like "Donut For A Snowman" -- pure Pollard pop for now people -- and "Laundry & Lasers" -- barely held together lo-fi garage grease -- minus any precious pretensions to art is, as ever, refreshing.
All of this whips by in such a blur that, by the time we make it to the 4-minute-plus "We Won't Apologize For the Human Race," the tune feels like a sprawling epic in contrast to the unvarnished batch of 2-minute ditties preceding it. Obviously, Pollard's ethic is of the "capture the idea quick and move on" variety, and writer's block has never been one of the issues he wrestles with. It might be nice to see what would happen if the band slowed down for a minute and fully crafted one of Pollard's strongest ideas -- "Snowman," for instance, could easily have become a grandiose R.E.M.-like weeper. But GBV's refusal to do so is kinda the point. We love them as they are, much like we love the drunk great uncle in the corner by the punch bowl at the Christmas party.
-- Jeff Miers
The Daily Mail & Staircase -- Single
[Ticker Tape Ltd.]
Radiohead releasing singles might seem ironic, given how successfully the king of present-day rock bands has rekindled the conception of the album-as-art (and artifact) over the past decade-plus. But "The Daily Mail & Staircase" proves that even leftovers from "The King Of Limbs" can come across as zeitgeist-capturing "big statements" from this clearly on-a-roll collective. Far from feeling tossed-off and disconnected, the single's songs erupt as a vital add-on to the album from whose sessions they sprung.
"The Daily Mail" commences as a piano-based ballad, centered around Thom Yorke's keening falsetto and lyrics ("The lunatics have taken over the asylum/Waiting on the rapture/Singing we're here to keep your prices down/we'll feed you to the hounds") that demand to be accepted within the context of the Occupy movement, even if they were written prior to its existence. Then, effortlessly, the song explodes into a frantic coda, replete with orchestral swells and maniacal Yorke mantra, a disturbing repetitive bark that sounds something like "President for life, love of all/The flies in the sky, the beasts of the earth/the fish in the sea have lost command." An epic, then, even at a meager 3 minutes and 37 seconds.
"Staircase" takes the opposite track, indulging in the stuttering polyrhythms and sweeping polyphony that made "Morning Mr. Magpie" sound like a 21st century update of Talking Heads' "Remain In Light." Huge props must go to bassist Colin Greenwood, whose lithe, inventive and oddly melodic bass line never fails to surprise, and keeps the momentum going throughout.
Performed by Le Cetra, Andrea Marcon, conductor
The willowy German soprano Mojca Erdmann sang a Mozart concert aria on a recent disc by pianist Helene Grimaud, and this is her solo Deutsche Grammophon debut, released earlier this year under the title of "Mostly Mozart." She includes some neat rarities: arias by Salieri and Johann Christian Bach, and Ignaz Holzbauer's "Gunther von Schwarzburg," an opera I had heard about but never heard.
A beautiful aria by Giovanni Paisiello is a delight. From Mozart's fascinating unfinished opera "Zaide," she sings not only the gorgeous, famous slumber song "Ruhe sanft," but also the dramatic "Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen." Erdmann's voice is smooth but thin, particularly in the upper registers. Everything she sings sounds pretty much alike. But she has a certain sweetness. She sang the part of the sweet peasant girl Zerlina at the Metropolitan Opera, and the part sounds perfect for her. (Zerlina's famous aria "Batti, batti" is on this disc.) Maybe she should capitalize on her choirboy sound and sing sacred music. Meanwhile this disc is pretty and interesting. I like her exploratory nature.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
The Very Best of Neil Diamond: The Original Studio Recordings
On Tuesday, the annual Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast on CBS with a terrific group of honorees: Sonny Rollins, Meryl Streep, Yo-Yo Ma, Barbara Cook and, yes, the token pop music honcho in the bunch, Neil Diamond. Are you ready for the powers-that-be in Washington getting together for a sing-along to "Sweet Caroline"? And a Kumbaya to you, too.
In the meantime, now that Diamond is in season, we've got this omnibus Diamond CD with, yes, his version of "I'm a Believer" that was a No. 1 hit for the Monkees and that Diamond can't even remember recording now.
Carefully note that Diamond's notes -- the best thing about the disc, by far -- are far more eager to tell you about the Band's Garth Hudson sitting in on "Beautiful Noise" and guitarist Richard Bennett's opening guitar lick on "Forever in Blue Jeans" than they are about the composition of each song -- though you can't beat the news that "Kentucky Woman" was written in an old funeral home limo that was driven by his keyboard player and on the way to Paducah, Ky. Or that the hit version of "Cherry, Cherry" was actually the demo version with Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry and Artie Butler that was supposed to be a guide for the recording session. When nothing on the actual session measured up, they went with the demo.
The anecdotes are good, so is some of the hit music. But, to understate the case, by no means all.
-- Jeff Simon