Last year, Robert Pollard and the reformed ‘classic’ Guided By Voices line up (Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Greg Demos, Mitch Mitchell and Kevin Fennell) started recording again. In a year they released three albums. Pollard released two solo records. The plan, apparently, is to maintain that level of output from now until forever; until somebody prises GBV out of his cold, dead hands.
Although admiration for that ambition should be tempered by the fact that Pollard also says: ‘Plans are moving ideas caught momentarily in stasis, and subject as often to revision as to fruition.” Which sounds like the kind of reasoning which works fine in a band, but is less easily applied to real-life situations involving your boss and several missed deadlines.
Still, while it continues, it’s a hell of a work ethic. Although it’s certainty helped by the fact that they’ve never been ones to pore over a song. You get the impression that if they were carpenters, GBV would be the ones who made the unvarnished tables with uneven corners and askew crossbracing. But every time you went round to the workshop there would be a new one. And every so often, it’d be a table of utter brilliance.
So ‘English Little League’, like many of its GBV brethren, is a scattergun, busy thing, full of ideas but with a tendency to leave some of them as skeletal as an atopic squirrel. ‘Sir Garlic Breath’ (yeah, yeah, but you try naming five albums worth of songs a year and see where YOU get to) sounds like a drunk busking on a bridge with an out-of-tune Fender. ‘Biographer Seahorse’ sounds like a drunk tripping over a guitar in a skip. ‘A Burning Glass’ sounds like a drunk collapsing on a piano down a terrible phoneline.
But in amongst the bits that would have been better left on the cutting room floor, there are nuggets of gold. ‘Island (She Talks In Rainbows)’ is a beautiful stab of pastoral Kinksian pop. The triumphant ‘Send To Celeste (And The Cosmic Athletes)’ is a gloriously grand affair, grandiose and pompous enough to slot neatly into as a 1970s rock-opera about the search for Victorian ghost ships, while the floaty ‘Noble Insect’ with its swirling psychedelic organ, occupies the exact same druggy/dreamy space as ‘I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’, and is absolutely tremendous because of it.
It’s patchy, but when ‘English Little League’ is good, it’s great. Besides, should you find you really dislike it, don’t fret. Just wait. Recent history suggests there will be another one along in a moment.