It’s got to be a bitch being Robert Pollard. You write some of the most indelible melodies of the last 25 years….and then you decide to write about 2,000 more of them, releasing them at a pace that would challenge even those without a full-time job to keep up and keep track. And you’ll never top the “masterpiece” that you recorded in a last-ditch attempt at escaping your day job almost 20 years ago, so you reform the “classic” version of that band and pump out 4 records in 16 months that sound kinda like the GBV of old but more approximately almost exactly like the stuff that has your own Christian name attached. You can’t win. Which brings us to “Honey Locust Honky Tonk”, another perfectly fine and intermittently excellent solo slab of Brit Invasion melodies, minute-long detours, and heart-on-sleeve balladry that is on par with what is expected of you.
Much has been written about how “consistent” this album sounds (and perhaps that’s correct if your idea of “inconsistent” is an album of solo-recorded sonic belches and squiggles which was released the same day under the moniker Teenage Guitar!), but if anything it most closely resembles 2006’s scattershot double-album, “From A Compound Eye”. Partly due to longtime collaborator Todd Tobias’ indistinct production and competent/”professional” accompaniment, there are few real highs but equally as few lows, and the good certainly outweighs the bad (and the “embarrassing” is entirely absent). First single “I Killed A Man Who Looks Like You” embeds some of Pollard’s most straightforward lyrics in years in backing that wouldn’t sound out of place in a late-80’s R.E.M. record and “Who Buries the Undertaker” has a ridiculously catchy melody. Finest of all might be album-closer, “Airs”, which sounds like the best track that wasn’t on GBV Mach II’s swansong, “Half Smiles of the Decomposed” .
It doesn’t all work – the brilliantly-titled “I Have to Drink” wastes its 43-second runtime and I think Black Francis might have a case for suing over the melody of "It Disappears in the Least Likely Hands (We Might Never Not See)" (seriously, try singing “Wave of Mutilation” over the verses!) – but he’s batting above average and there are some real gems throughout. Pollard has hinted that Guided By Voices might be no more, and if that’s the case we could certainly do much worse than another round at the “Honky Tonk”.