The ever-prolific Robert Pollard is back (again) with a new solo LP Normal Happiness. The press release explains how The Beatles or The Who might release two albums a year and that was the norm in those days, and should not be frowned upon now. They seem to be overlooking the fact that between 2005's Beneath A Compound Eye and this second official post-Guided By Voices solo album Pollard has put out another 3 side-project albums on which he is clearly the captain of the ship - The Takeovers, The Keene Brothers and Psycho And The Birds. Plus that Bubble soundtrack mini-LP.
Putting side-projects aside for a moment, this is clearly a Robert Pollard solo album and the closest thing we're going to get to a new Guided By Voices record for the foreseeable future. Where the side-projects are defined by their lack of definition, Normal Happiness is a fairly coherent record - featuring 16 concise chunks of pop-rock which barely clock in at over two minutes each. It follows the late-GBV era of Half Smiles Of The Decomposed in style, playing clever lyrics off against musical themes and concepts. As usual it's a roller-coaster of variable quality, but rather than me giving you a general consensus, let's get specific.
1. The Accidental Texas Who - Near perfect. Bob's outrageous comedy English accent at the start sets the tone for the album and makes the track seem like throw-away brilliance, effortlessly changing gear. 5 stars.
2. Whispering Whip - A moody opening starts the song well, but once that trump card is played it looses a bit of direction. 3 stars.
3. Supernatural Car Lover - A future Song Of The Day. Flawless power-pop, with a catchy underlying guitar lick powering it along. 5 stars.
4. Boxing About - Effortless and beautiful. 3.5 stars.
5. Serious Bird Women (You Turn Me On) - Megaphone vocals undermine this ballad, which stretches a bit thin. 3 stars.
6. Get A Faceful - Catchy, but slightly plodding. Like watching Carl Lewis do the 100m in 13 seconds. 2.5 stars.
7. Towers And Landslides - Starts and ends abruptly, once the mission of the song has been accomplished. 2.5 stars.
8. I Feel Gone Again - A low-key number that starts acoustically and builds into 70's sounding power pop of the Toto calibre (but about 8 minutes shorter). 3 stars
9. Gasoline Rag - Quirky stop-starting number with good production and a galloping chorus, but it's a bit thin on the lyrics. 2.5 stars.
10. Rhoda Rhoda - Average musically. M.O.R. 2.5 stars.
11. Give Up The Grape - Plodding, but nice key changes and a more lyrical drive. 3 stars.
12. Pegasus Glue Factory - Blending in musically from the previous track, the album is now coming back together. This great-title of a song could be a Genesis b-side, building up to an improv sounding jam. 3.5 stars.
13. Top Of My Game - Finger picking and lyrical. A fresh start. 3 stars.
14. Tomorrow Will Not Be Another Day - Starts in the middle, like a back-from-the-break lick on the Dukes of Hazzard. Would have liked it to be more of a Skynyrd 10 minute jam. 3 stars.
15. Join The Eagles - Contemplative and lyrical. A possible tuba on the end. 3 stars.
16. Full Sun (Dig The Slowness) - With simple lyrics recalling his own GBV songs (the carpenter's and their wives), there's little room for vocals here - giving way to a superbly building musical jam, packed with bleeping synthesizers. Back to the best. 4.5 stars.
So, there we have it. 50.5 out of a possible 80. 3 stars. Tracks 1, 3 and 16 make it into my ever expanding best-of-bob-projects playlist. The record seems to literally reference Guided By Voices themselves in several places (both musically and lyrically), bringing a nostalgic feeling to some of the records like a magic wand. As we've recently seen with GBV's lo-fi peers Sebadoh and Pavement, when is more too much? If I'm honest I'd be hard pressed to name any GBV record as a flawless classic, but the flaws are what made them classics, and this just follows that same logic.