Over the past couple years, Robert Pollard has come up with a glut of great solo material, somehow tapping into a new focus and energy that we haven’t quite seen from him since Guided by Voices split. This run of records, whose high quality tracks back to 2008’s Robert Pollard Is Off to Business, can be separated into two categories. There are the more traditional, 12-or-so-song albums, like …Off to Business and 2009’s The Crawling Distance, and then you’ve got more sprawling affairs, like last year’s Elephant Jokes and this year’s excellent We All Got Out of the Army that recall the schizo-pop records Guided by Voices were putting out in the mid-’90s.
Moses on a Snail, Pollard’s latest (not last) release of 2010, falls into the first category. It’s got 12 songs that tend to clock in around three minutes and lack any of Pollard’s zanier songwriting tendencies. This is power-pop at its most straightahead. The Crawling Distance and …Off to Business did the same thing, but they overcame that lack of Pollard’s charming musical ADD by delivering tight songs that had a deeper-running, more resonant energy. The songs stretched out and built patiently, but the hooks — as they usually do with Pollard — dug deep.
Moses on a Snail, unfortunately, doesn’t find the same success, though things do start promisingly. The one-two opening of “The Weekly Crow” and “A Constant Strangle” is both moody in a way you don’t normally see from Pollard and awfully tuneful. Todd Tobias’s backing music gives the rock crunch you’d expect with a resonant dark tone you might not. There’s also “Ice Cold War,” which is the most frenetic, goofball rock song on the record. It’s also the best, rising above the rest with Pollard doing his finest Daltrey impression and exuding the irrepressible, child-like zeal and oddball lyrics that have made him an indie-rock icon.
The rest of the record, though none of it is out-and-out bad, trudges along. These are all straight pop songs, but they get bogged down by a prog-rock heft Pollard tends to hang on his other, lesser side projects like the Circus Devils. If these songs had some other, quicker bits of pop bursting around them, they might just work. But as it stands, the effective mood that begins Moses on a Snail turns into something closer to fatigue, both for you, the listener, and seemingly for Pollard. There’s a bit of redemption in the wandering arena-rock dramatics of the album-closing title track. But it feels like it takes an awful long time to get there and, with that album title, you get the impression that Pollard’s quite aware of the pace he’s set.