by Mike Corrigan
In the kingdom of indie rock, the trouble with being unintentionally quirky and (by default) unique is that your fans come to expect it from you. And when you finally attain the status necessary to bring technically perfect production to bear, allowing you to finally translate the sounds in your head into sonically pure reality, you catch hell for abandoning the aesthetic that made you a standout in the first place.
Ever since 1998's Mag Earwig! (featuring the first full lineup change since the band's inception somewhere in the early 1980s), Guided by Voices' guiding light Robert Pollard has been moving steadily toward big rock and away from the bizarre arrangements and delightfully shoddy production that characterized the dozen or so albums that first garnered GbV a rabid cult following. In the transition from basement-dwelling, home-taping, warped pop renegades into a bona fide, technically proficient, marketable rock band, something was lost. Where sparkling pop gems used to fly out of GbV albums like glorious accidents, the new, cleaned up, "improved" band sounds metered, calculated, "correct" and ultimately, tamed.
Though Isolation Drills is loaded with fine tunage ("Fair Touching," "Chasing Heather Crazy," Twighlight Campfighter," "Unspirited") -- punctuated by Pollard's incredible melodic flair and engaging lyrical twists -- it fails to elicit holy shit explicatives and chills of delight readily available on such GbV benchmarks as Bee Thousand and Under The Bushes, Under The Stars. No matter how good it is (and it is good), it can't help but fail to be great.
Uncle Bob, you've groomed your followers to expect the unexpected. Is it any wonder that with Isolation Drills, we are underwelmed?