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Guided by Voices

Back when Robert Pollard's liver was pinker, Guided by Budweiser earned its cult stripes with a simple and foolproof formula: lo-fi, anthem-baiting sketches that recalled midperiod Beatles/Who, sported intentionally vague lyrics, and rarely exceeded two minutes. Pollard hasn't stopped honoring his forefathers of the British Invasion, bowing and scraping to Her Majesty the Queen's tastiest power chords, but these days he's letting the songs breathe. And rendering them cleaner. The pseudo-ponce-inflected accent hasn't gone anywhere (demonstrating the easiest way to pick Daytonites out of a crowd), and when band members come and go (nearly 40 have twirled through the group's revolving door), it leaves a fella perplexed about his very beechwood-aged existence.

Out with the phone books, the hunting knives, the kicking of elves: Pollard has turned a brutal eye on himself. He's a one-man fighter squadron on a mission, a stubborn wordsmith on a permanent barstool. "How's My Drinking?" highlights this disc as an uneasy confessional -- funny enough to grace a bumper sticker but guaranteed to make a den mother good and MADD. Most of the time the sound is happy-go-bombastic, recalling the explosive arena days of big rock. Pollard continues to master metaphor and wit with stealth and understatement. He's preoccupied with corporeal sensations, too: light passing through him, bodily fluids like ink and wine. You know, poetry.

No less than three instant classics ("Fair Touching," "Chasing Heather Crazy," and especially "Run Wild") clear the runway for war stories about pokerfaced bingo players, predatory love, and finding solace in times of martial law. It's a good listen from stern to helm, but most amazing at this time in Pollard's career is that he actually expects to break into FM rotation! In a perfect world, things like that would happen all the time -- stodgy program directors would branch out from the mighty Zep -- but this is war, soldier. Buck up! With the batting average of a barfly slurring "Go home with me, baby/I pitched a no-hitter at Wright State U.," (which he claims to have done), Pollard pulls off plenty of smaller miracles, though: throwback acoustic palette cleansers ("Frostman"), chamber-accompanied balladry ("Unspirited," "Privately"), glorious squall and drone ("Pivotal Film"), and pop so perfect it's annoying ("Glad Girls").

Turning soil where scenesters dare not tread but classic-rock fans stomp, the man who came to prominence declaring "I Am a Scientist" benefits greatly from producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Foo Fighters, Elliott Smith). In contrast to the group's gloss-induced previous effort, Do the Collapse (producer Ric "Candy" Ocasek purportedly barred beer coolers from the studio), Drills finds GBV's frontman at his pickled best. Alone in a rental at age 43. Endorsing Converse and Wiedemann's lager. Blah blah genius, blah blah masterpiece, blah.

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John La Briola

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