There’s a parable out there about Robert Pollard in which someone once jokingly told him something to the effect of, “I heard that if you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, you’ve written three songs in your head by the time you’ve come back,” to which Pollard replied, “Yeah, that’s right. And two of them will be good, too.”
It’s hard to imagine at this point in the man’s life if he can ever hear himself think in anything but song, like an ongoing Sondheim musical. To be responsible for literally a few thousands of songs amongst his various projects is statistically more than most artists can shake a stick at – save for others on the same grind, such as Buckethead or Merzbow. What’s truly impressive is that his mainstay act, Guided By Voices, has several albums to their name that many consider to be staples of indie rock.
Please Be Honest is the 23rd album to bear the Guided By Voices “moniker,” which up until 2016 has never been referred to as such. Pollard is a songwriting machine, but he’s never been without an entourage, be it musical partner Tobin Sprout from the group’s lo-fi years or Cleveland natives Cobra Verde. Yet, for the first time in history, Pollard manages this LP from top to bottom, writing every song and playing every instrument. He’s even disarmed of near-constant collaborator and producer Todd Tobias. The bummer, as a result to all of this, is that while he’s proven time and time again that he’s one hell of a frontman, this record is a sore realization that when stripped down to the barest of essentials, the iron often isn’t hot enough to be struck.
“Eye Shop Heaven”
Fans will most closely associate this album with their early lo-fi era, given that the tape hiss is as loud as it’s been since Devil Between My Toes. When considering the massive volume of hooks this band churned out over the course of decades, it’s impossible not to notice the absence of upbeat rockers this time around. “Glittering Parliaments” and “Eye Shop Heaven” do the trick, but for the most part, Please Be Honest invests its time in the other half of GBV’s forte: weirdo odds and sods. Make no mistake, several tunes that fall into that category have wound up as classics in their own right; in fact, one of the band’s most unsung albums is King Shit and the Golden Boys – a collection of unreleased material and various loose ends. Still, the tracks here don’t qualify as loose ends. They’re complete ideas, fully formed by the man himself that don’t stand up on their own; cohesive in the sense that songs like “Unfinished Business” and “Sad Baby Eyes” both meet abrupt cadences with a feeling akin to that of an illustrator frantically crumpling up sheet after sheet of paper from their sketchbook out of immediate abandon for their ideas. For the GBV lifer, think of Please Be Honest as Alien Lanes, if most of the tracks were of the same fervor and anti-anthemic value as “(I Wanna Be a) Dumbcharger.” For the GBV layman: skip this one and just listen to Alien Lanes.