Robert Pollard, currently 57 and born in ’57, has well over 1,700 songs registered under his name. This kind of songwriting facility should arouse suspicions in any rational human, but as far as Pollard’s concerned, there need be no inverse relationship between quantity and quality – and anyway, this latest album of his is rather modest.
There are no more than five instruments on the album. Two driving guitars chime harmoniously on every track, and although the Guided by Voices frontman has always worn his R.E.M. influence on his tattered sleeve, the music on Faulty Superheroes occasionally brings to mind the Replacements circa Let It Be – which is all the more incongruous because Pollard doesn’t seem to be saying that much.
The lyrics are generally fairly nonsensical, with the occasional pun; the writing is like a cousin of John Cale’s efforts on Paris 1919, featuring some odd pronunciations (why repeatedly pronounce Wolfgang’s surname as ‘Moze-art’?). A sample chorus goes “Take me to Yolita | I am Yolita”, though the song whence it comes does at least have the decency of possessing a brief but pleasing two-chord guitar coda. Throughout the album, the words seem to be there simply to float on top of the guitars and rhythm section, and although opacity and refractory lyrics can be done well, Uncut’s rather generous words about Pollard – something about how “his oblique wordplay sparkles” – are a tad generous. His words obfuscate, but not in a particularly pleasing or challenging way. I don’t mind him not challenging me, but he could at least be challenging himself.
Nonetheless, the music itself is enjoyable enough for his lyrical shortcomings to not pose too much of a problem. The tracks themselves are, as might be expected from him, brief – not an inch of musical fat on them, thanks in large part to Kevin March’s disciplined, un-showy drumming – and the whole album barely exceeds 35 minutes, a perfectly pleasant length for an album that sounds like Peter Gabriel singing over the Jesus and Mary Chain. We’re left with a medium-fi macaroon: it may not have all that much depth, but it does go down pretty easily.