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The Broken Face
By Nick Bensen
Go Back Snowball
#17 in the Fading Captain Series
Go Back Snowball is a long-distance collaboration between Bob Pollard of Guided By Voices and Mac McCaughan of Superchunk. Over the last few years, Pollard has participated in various collaborations, adding new inspiration to his long and incredibly prolific career. Releases by Airport 5 (with Tobin Sprout), Circus Devils (with Tim and Todd Tobias) and Robert Pollard And His Soft Rock Renegades (with Greg Demos and Jim Macpherson) have included some of Pollard's most remarkable recent songs. The spoken word, noise, and punk hodgepodge The Completed Soundtrack For The Tropic Of Nipples credited to Richard Meltzer, Robert Pollard, Smegma, Antler & Vom strikes me as less successful but it is certainly something new and different from Pollard's work with Guided By Voices.
On Calling Zero, Mac McCaughan played the instruments and Bob Pollard provided the vocals. I don't know whether McCaughan worked from Pollard's melodies or vice versa. There is a sense that, if McCaughan came up with the music first, he was definitely writing specifically with Pollard in mind. The songs have a great deal in common with Pollard's solo recordings and less to do with the streamlined rock anthems that have made up the last few Guided By Voices albums (not including the new GbV release Universal Truths And Cycles, which signals a step back toward the band's pre-major label pinnacle. See review below). In the process of writing songs to match Pollard's style, McCaughan asserts his own personality with his trademark dichotomy of crunchy electric guitars and pristine acoustic strumming.
"Radical Girl" starts the CD with a distorted organ line punctuated by occasional blasts of synth horns. As Pollard kicks into a memorable chorus, the excitement builds ? this is simply a great song. The title track follows in a more laid back mood but with the same melodic impact. The word play on the title ("Calling Zero" twisting into "Colleen's Hero") is classic Pollard songwriting. "Never Forget Where You Get Them" is the third song in a row graced by a moving, sing-along tune. The next track "Red Hot Halos" is built on a terse acoustic rhythm and an endearingly out of tune piano line. McCaughan starts "Again The Waterloo" with a bass-heavy beat that is soon accompanied by chunky electric chords, the perfect setting for Pollard's otherworldly processed vocals. "Climb" features McCaughan's signature lead guitar playing against another strong Pollard vocal line. The chiming guitars and understated keyboards on "Go Gold" recall the prettier songs on Pollard's early solo albums but the production is crystal clear. "Lifetime For The Mavericks" is a highly successful collaboration because it sounds exactly like Guided By Voices and Superchunk blended seamlessly together. McCaughan's electronic percussion and simple rhythm guitar give "Throat Of Throats" a cheerful '80s synth pop quality that leaves Pollard free to take some liberties with his crooning vocals. A minimalist keyboard framework on "Ironrose Worm" works in much the same way, with Pollard's soulful voice going into late '70s Bowie territory. On an album of strongly defined melodies, "It Is Divine" is perhaps the most insistent and compelling. The foreboding closing track "Dumbluck Systems Stormfront" resonates as Pollard admonishes "Get off your high horse baby" while McCaughan's tasteful (synth?) muted trumpet supplies an unexpected counterpoint.
Go Back Snowball may the best of Bob Pollard's collaborative projects. Pollard and McCaughan obviously got on the same wavelength for Calling Zero . Both artists show off their finest strengths on this remarkable album, defining their individual talents while expertly supporting each other's ideas. Fans of Guided By Voices, Superchunk or any current independent rock are advised to hear this CD.