Boston Spaceships Let it Beard(GBV Inc) Buy it from Insound
I’d like to preface this review with a disclaimer: I’m a borderline obsessive Bob Pollard fan. I own nearly every song he’s released, even the ridiculous “Suitcase” box sets which contain 100 unreleased songs/outtakes/alternate versions a piece and various other obscure collections which lurk in the bowels of the internet. And he’s a difficult man to keep pace with – he releases something like 6 albums a year. Unfortunately, no human being is capable of writing 6 good albums a year, even a genius songwriting machine like Bob Pollard (especially given that he already has over 1000 songs registered to his name and has been releasing records since the early 80’s). Basically, he churns out a fair amount of shit these days. Still, I’m more than willing to be charitable, given that in early 90’s era Guided By Voices he wrote some of the greatest songs of all time.
So, Boston Spaceships. Made up of Bob Pollard, Chris Slusarenko (former Guided By Voices bandmate) and John Moen (former drummer in The Decemberists), Boston Spaceships are Bob’s first “proper” band since he retired Guided By Voices in 2004. Their first album, Brown Submarine, quite rightly received widespread critical acclaim – it was the best thing he’d written in at least 6 years. 3 albums (and a predictable slump in quality) later and we have Let It Beard, apparently the band’s swan song. It’s a whopping great 26 track double album, which seems to be Bob’s way of trying to finish the project with a bang. As a long time fan, I knew that it wasn’t going to be 26 tracks of solid gold hits, given that the man is utterly incapable of stopping himself releasing a song (or even an unfinished idea) if he’s recorded it, with little or no attention paid to quality control. I went into it telling myself not to be disappointed and to focus on the good bits, which is the usual routine for any fan who’s stuck with him after all these years.
The thing is… this album really sucks, even by his recent standards. Several of these songs are clearly rough acoustic demos he made at home and couldn’t be bothered to flesh out in the studio with the band, probably because they weren’t worth it. In 1993 a Bob Pollard acoustic demo could have been one of the best songs ever written, but he just can’t get away with it anymore: the songs aren’t strong enough to stand on their own. The full band songs don’t fare much better either. I mean, sure, they don’t sound too different to anything else he’s released recently, but then nothing he’s released in about 10 years really sounds that distinctive. Sometimes, however, he is still able to really nail a brilliant pop melody every once in a while that leaps out from the mediocrity and burrows its way into your brain. Not on this album. This is 26 tracks of MOR which chug along uninterestingly in the background. The situation is made even worse by the poorly sung vocals and the tinny mix. His voice has been deteriorating slowly over the years thanks to decades of chain smoking and alcohol abuse, and the vocals on Let It Beard make this more apparent than ever. The tinny mix is surprising though, even to me. The production values on his recent albums have been generally pretty solid. After I played the first few tracks from Let It Beard, however, I had to check I hadn’t accidentally knocked the bass dial on my speakers.
And finally: the artwork. I have no idea what he was thinking. It is hilariously bad. For those who don’t know, Bob is famous for his collages, many of which have graced his album covers since the early days of Guided By Voices. Why he chose this crap rather than one of them I don’t know.
This album is not a "return to form" or a "masterpiece" like some other desperate fans have been saying (and say each time he releases a new album - how every album can possibly be a "return to form" I don't know). It's just painfully mediocre. Oh Bob… what are you doing to us? You’re just hurting those who love you. Stop releasing this shit, please.19 August, 2011 - 08:14 — Andrew Hirst