Pop fact*: Robert Pollard has written and recorded over a million songs (*it’s not a fact). This might not be true but it’s also not unbelievable either. The Guided By Voices frontman is furiously and famously prolific, seemingly able to produce songs at will. So now, even as the original Guided By Voices line up to release new album Let’s Go Eat The Factor, he still has time to present his solo album, Mouseman Cloud. It’s a playful and spontaneous album that offers something to both his fans and his detractors.
It’s been said before but his productivity is both a blessing and a curse. This is the 13th consecutive year that Pollard has released more than one album. That’s a lot of music. It means his fans get their Pollard fix, yet it also means that a lot of his work gets overlooked as some give up on trying to keep up.
That’s a shame because Mouseman Cloud contains some great songs. Looser and less structured than what we’re used to from Guided By Voices, it focuses on wordplay and on exploring sounds. Sometimes he strikes gold, sometimes not, though the songs are short enough that even those that don’t are gone before they grate.
For all that this is still distinctively and undeniably a Robert Pollard album, and anyone looking for huge change in direction won’t find it on Mouseman Cloud. This is frayed-around-the-edges college rock: melodic and playful and always inventive, especially when it comes to lyrics. It is, in short, archetypal Pollard.
There are 17 tracks here. On the first, Obvious #1, he repeats “It’s obvious, it’s too obvious” over a summery jangly riff that sounds a little like GBV’s Jar Of Cardinals; it’s hard not to compare these songs to those he writes for his day job, especially when there are quite a few here that sound like classic Guided By Voices.
Science Magazine is the most familiar, with its wonky guitar solo and Pollard singing “When I said I would kill you in so many words it was impossible”. Elsewhere, Dr Time and Lizard Ladder showcase the heavy but classic college rock anthems that Pollard has made his name with. Aspirin Moon is another that can be filed under ‘breezy stomper that sounds effortlessly catchy’.
Other songs focus more on his lyrical dexterity, with the melody seemingly showing up after he wrote the words. Continue To Break is more inward looking, his voice on the verge of breakdown before a bassy riff kicks in and he sings “Grandfather’s blues continues to shoot up the six o’clock news” over and over again. In its own way the repetition makes for an affecting track.
Zen Mother Hen is a great example of child-like lyrics taking on deeper meaning. Sounding like a more stuck together Tractor Rape Chain it features the lines “Say it, don’t spray it, be happy” and the touching “I’m a clown, I’m a ghost and she’s happy”.
Elsewhere there are tracks that stand out. Picnic Drums’ military percussion suddenly lurches into an unexpected, almost Elton John-like climax. The title track crunches along with Pollard’s deft feathery voice riding on top while Mother’s Milk And Magnets’ chugging riff burrows into brain and won’t go away.
The sheer scope of ideas that seem to float round Pollard’s head is quite incredible. However, the nagging feeling still lingers that if he focused on creating an 11-track record he could come up with a stone cold classic. But that’s not to understate that Mouseman Cloud is the sound of a man who has become, effortlessly it seems, a master of his ragged craft.