Do the Collapse

Guided by Voices:
Do the Collapse

[TVT; 1999]
Rating: 4.7
The release of a new Guided by Voices album is cause for great celebration in certain camps. Among music critics I've observed, raucous and unfettered rejoicing, unmitigated praising, and numerous rounds of circle-jerking mark the occasion. Music journalists from all walks come together, thesauruses in hand, to heap generally pleasant and worshipful adjectives upon their hero, Bob Pollard.

These well wishes don't come without merit, either. Pollard is among the most accomplished songwriters to emerge in the 90s, and certainly that decade's most prolific craftsman. At their best, Pollard's unadorned gems have been surprisingly complex given the rudimentary instrumentation and recording techniques he employs. Pollard mastered the 90-second pop song, distilling what other songwriters would need four-to-six minutes to achieve into its most pure, crystalline form. Thus, a track like "As We Go Up, We Go Down" never seemed truncated or short-lived at a buck thirty six. Rather, it progressed fully through its beginning, middle and end, even leaving enough room for a fading coda.

The foundation of Pollard's unique legend lies in his ability to string 20-30 of these nuggets together for a complete album at a frequency with which the rest of us visit the dentist. And even if Pollard's more recent releases have been showing the wear of his incredible workload, he still manages to anchor their credibility with flashes of greatness.

Do the Collapse is the band's latest offering and an interesting crossroads from which to consider Pollard's legend. Bob's switched from indie faithful Matador to nu-industrial label TVT, eschewing his traditional trademark lo-fi production and enlisting the help of Ric Ocasek. Before listening to the album, I imagined this to be a step up for Pollard-- it seems logical that someone who can squeeze so much from so little would only expand to meet the widening possibilities. Unfortunately, that's not the case here, and the production ain't the problem.

Do the Collapse is a collection of middling, unremarkable songs that are, for the most part, bereft of the quirky ingenuity that was once the hallmark of Pollard's work. The album's opener and cornerstone single, "Teenage FBI", suffers not as much from its early Cars organ fills as from its trite underlying material. Pollard used to write minute-long Who songs; now he's taken to penning three-minute Ramones tunes. Throughout the album, the added production value seems to hide rather than accentuate. In fact, it's difficult imagining tracks like "Mushroom Art" and "Zoo Pie" working at all without Ocasek's bells and whistles. And on "Hold on Hope", Pollard's expanded oeuvre only exposes the emptiness of the source material.

Granted, this is still Bob Pollard we're talking about, and tunes like "Surgical Focus" and "An Unmarketed Product" could probably teach the vast majority of songwriters a thing or two about the game. But judging only a few songs successful is a failure for Pollard-- as he went up, he went down. And ultimately, Do the Collapse is a Guided by Voices album that will gather dust as it's passed over for its companions. Circle jerk canceled.

- Neil Lieberman, August 1, 1999