Last October, when former Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard released two albums on the same day (the lackluster Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and the mostly dreadful Standard Gargoyle Decisions), he made the latest (and possibly worst) in a long line of concessions of quantity over quality. The joint albums' 33 tracks featured only one or two stunners, and 30 tracks of middling material that Pollard has topped on many of his other 1,000 BMI-registered songs.
But he's announced that Robert Pollard is off to Business, his thirteenth solo album (roughly), will be his only solo release in 2008. The implied notion is that Off to Business is a truly vital album, one that will be treasured by his fans, because, after all, it’s the only disc he’s putting out this year. Too bad the album is more inessential than ever, but at least it’s only 10 tracks, not as stuffed with filler as Pollard’s past albums.
Off to Business, is a departure of sorts; the album clocks in at 35 minutes (a lot of Pollard’s releases are 70 minutes), with most of the tracks hitting the epic length of four minutes (epic for Pollard, the master of the 90-second song). Off to Business is also Pollard’s first foray into label ownership (he’s releasing it on his newly formed Guided By Voices Inc. after four albums in two years for Merge) and the album finds Pollard taking stock of where he is in his life (and career) as of 2008.
On opener “The Original Heart,” he waxes poetic over the aging of his generation, the information age and his detachment from the working world, singing, “All my friends are working hard/ Trying to establish themselves.” He discusses the perils of aging (and the inherent personality changes involved) on “The Blondes” and the leaving (death?) of a lover on “Confessions of a Teenage Jerk-Off.”
Pollard is joined in the creation of the album with his long-time producer Todd Tobias, who adds all of the instruments after Pollard records his vocals. Tobias, like on last year’s Standard Gargoyle Decisions, lends Pollard’s vocals a thick AOR production, making Pollard seem like late-period Who (on “No One But I”) or, worse, Voodoo Lounge-era Rolling Stones (on “Weatherman and Skin Goddess”).
The only time Pollard seems as vital as he was back in 1994 is on closer “Wealth and Hell Being,” a slow-burning, country-fried, ballad where Pollard’s wistful vocals and his old musical transcendence coincide for the first time. For years Pollard has been stating that he belongs in rock’s upper pantheon based on the amount of songs he puts out and his inherent greatness. On Off to Business, he accomplishes another step toward canonization, making a late-period album that removes any semblance of what made him great in the first place and is a largely uninspired trip down memory lane.