Superman Was a Rocker
I recently lamented the apparent decline of former Guided By Voices frontman and current solo indie Daytonian Robert Pollard in a review of his latest “proper” solo album (Off to Business), which actually stands up to multiple listens somewhat better than originally expected. Can you feel me rooting for the guy? Here’s the secret, though: he spreads his golden rock moments out over not only said “proper” releases but also amongst the car payment — er — “lesser” projects. The diehards take this as a point of pride, knowing that pretty much every Pollard project will have some (if not several) shiny nuggets worthy of inclusion to the canon. Here’s a quick juxtaposition between two recent releases, Pollard’s Superman Was a Rocker, and Bad Football, by Pollard’s side project The Takeovers.
An important distinction must be made between these albums and the “cream of the crop” releases, and that’s the perception of quality control. Since the man’s output is so staggering, it’s easy to peg anything not billed as a “major” release as substandard — but that would be a mistake, at least on occasion. The Takeovers’ Bad Football is a prime example of an overlooked highlight that still burns with the offhand inspiration and cheek that first made Pollard and GBV so irresistible to the indie pop cognoscenti. With the help of late-era GBV-er Chris Slusarenko and a ragtag cast of characters from Tad, Mudhoney, and Pavement (Malkmus himself), Pollard re-capitalizes on the garage energy and indie exuberance of his initial Takeovers offering (Turn to Red) with this second go-around. It’s uneven and pocked with its own share of duds (“The Jester of Helpmeat,” “Kicks at the Gym”), but you can hear Pollard’s genuine excitement in the old-school-GBV-sounding “Smokestack Bellowing Stars,” the ragged harmonies of “Father’s Favorite Temperature” and the plodding yet engrossing “Little Green Onion Man.” Grittier, more acidic and decidedly more fun than most of Uncle Bob’s recent output, Bad Football proves essential listening for the faithful. Of course, the faithful have probably streamed it, pre-ordered the limited-edition vinyl and memorized every note of this album by now.
In contrast to the energy and sense of adventure Bad Football offers, Pollard’s Superman Was a Rocker gets filed in the “for completists only” category. The concept is tantalizing for fans: Pollard sifted through his tapes for unused recorded material that runs the breadth of GBV’s existence, thus past members are bound to be heard from once again. Right? Unfortunately, even when the results are anywhere near musical, the clumsy overdubbed vocals stall any nostalgic potential Superman might have to offer. Right down to its recycled-image cover art (put it next to the cover of Pollard’s From a Compound Eye if you need proof), Superman reeks of cash-in kryptonite. Perhaps Pollard’s records should be color-coded from now on — green means go out and buy Bad Football, red tells you to stop when you see Superman and consider that used best of by the Who in the bargain bin. (D.M. Jones)