Do you know the main reason I will always prefer indie rock to pop? It's that in the case of the former, perfection can come from the most imperfect of sources. By necessity, the best pop is clinical, manicured to be fully-formed. But indie-rock? Well just listen to the run of records by the "classic" line-up era Guided By Voices, which started with 1992's Propellor, ended with 1996's Under The Bushes Under The Stars, and peaked in-between with 1994's Bee Thousand and 1995's Alien Lanes. These albums were a car-crash of ideas, one hook cast aside for another amidst a menagerie of scrappily produced songs which borrowed from post-punk, metal and British Invasion, played with more enthusiasm than technical proficiency. And therein laid the brilliance of those records.
And now GBV are back, with that same classic lineup (welcome back, for the first time since 1997, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos and Kevin Fennell) for the first GBV record since 2004's supposed swanswong Half Smiles Of The Decomposed. Robert Pollard, of course, has never been away, having released an endless stream of albums of solo material and various side-projects, including the rather excellent Boston Spaceships. For better or worse, those albums have always carried Pollard's influences and distinctive touch, and so it would've been easy for Let's Go Eat The Factory to sound like a simple continuation of Pollard's non-GBV work.
That it truly sounds like the band who released those aforementioned classics is sufficient to make Let's Go Eat The Factory a successful return. The album's 21 songs are in glorious cut-and-paste lo-fi, and dispensed of within 42 minutes. Sonic details like the blast of organ on The Head cut through the musical soup in ungracious but certainly not unwelcome fashion. Doughnut For A Snowman opens with what sounds like the excerpt of another song entirely. Vocally, Pollard and the honey-voiced Tobin Sprout sound the same as they always did. To say that it recreates the classic GBV sound would be doing the album a gross misjustice, as in no way does it sound contrived or studious; it's like these guys simply don't know any other way to play and record together.
Where the album does stumble slightly compared to those previous records is in the song-writing itself. There's nothing on Let's Go Eat The Factory that quite hooks you in with the same force as an Echoes Myron or Game of Pricks, nor are the albums more curious moments in anyway as inexplicably spell-binding as the likes of The Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen Directory or Almost Crushed Me. In the past, the band's 30-second songs served as invaluable segues to the more comprehensive songs but somehow they don't function quite so well here, making Let's Go Eat The Factory an uneven listen, even by GBV standards. The album's lowest point comes during a typically ill-disciplined mid-section with The Big Hat and Toy Show, a directionless two minutes of noodly guitar and Pollard's warbling.
With that said, there is still much to enjoy here, with Sprout's contributions in particular a great reminder of why this lineup of GBV clicked better than any other. He provides the album's finest moment in Spiderfighter, a wonderfully gnarly rocker which gives way to a gentle piano outro, as well as the album's most direct hook in God Loves Us. Not to be outdone, Pollard's gorgeous mellontron-tinged Chocolate Boy and the album's hefty closer We Won't Apologize For The Human Race provide high points worthy of any classic GBV record.
Whilst certainly not up there with their best records, there are enough flashes of inspiration on Let's Go Eat The Factory to make for a highly enjoyable record and a welcome return, one which provides every indication that their next release (thankfully we won't have to wait long; Class Clown Spots A UFO is slated for a May release) might just hit those heights on a more consistent basis.