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Memphis Flyer
Chris Davis

Guided By Voices
Universal Truths and Cycles
Matador Records

Hearing Voices, kicking back, and hooray for Bollywood.

In the midst of the musically crippled 1980s, Bob Pollard and Guided By Voices, armed only with an unshakable faith in John Lennon, the potent jargon of war, and an abiding love of flying machines, got stewed as bats and sloppily set about the task of remapping the rock-and-roll genome. Obsessively mixing and matching so many disparate sonic elements, GBV developed a brand of arena-ready bubblegum that can only be described as short-form prog. The ease with which GBV tossed off complex two-minute anthems (not to mention their heroic onstage drinking) made them the darlings of true punks and frat boys alike, and Pollard gave voice to this odd appeal in "Quality of Armor," a Beatles-flavored beauty from Propeller. "The worst offense is intelligence," Pollard wailed. "The best defense is belligerence." Lyrically speaking, songs like "Game of Pricks" from Alien Lanes rivaled Dylan at his finest, while tunes like "Radio Show (Trust the Wizard)" managed to both poke fun at and pay homage to drive-time radio and its requisite doses of Pink Floyd and Rush.

But beginning with Under the Bushes Under the Stars, it started to look like the absurdly prolific Pollard had run out of things to say, and keeper singles like Do the Collapse's wickedly catchy "Teenage F.B.I." aside, they were never able to put together an album as complete and cohesive as Bee Thousand. Last year's critically lauded Isolation Drills seemed neither intelligent nor belligerent. In fact, Pollard's lyrics had become decidedly smug. GBV's latest offering, Universal Truths and Cycles, is the closest the steadily shifting lineup of musicians has come to making a front-to-back brilliant LP in a long time. It's almost like a guided tour through the group's discography, beginning with Devil Between My Toes and ending somewhere around Mag Earwig. As usual, this disc finds Pollard sloshed and staring at the stars, and, thanks to the mad guitar skills of Doug Gillard, it has all the monstrous hooks and civilized aggression these self-proclaimed soft-rock renegades are famous for.

Frequent GBV flyers, however, will recognize recycled lyrical material that never quite measures up to vintage Pollard. Occasionally, his lyrics even lapse into the kind of accidental self-parody only Lou Reed can rival. On the other hand, rockers like the disc's first single, "Everywhere With Helicopter," manage to sound fresh in spite of the tried-and-true Pollardisms. "Cheyenne" comes on strong with the same bouncy pop that fueled earlier hits like "The Closer You Are (the Quicker It Hits You)" but without the ominous silliness that made that song great. In fact, all the quirkiness that made songs like "My Valuable Hunting Knife" stick in your head has been excised, making the whole affair duller than it could be and more than a little self-important. Maybe it's finally time for Pollard, well into his 40s, to slow down just a little bit, regroup, and rediscover the wonders of robots, UFOs, and self-inflicted aerial nostalgia. Universal Truths and Cycles would be a career record for most bands, but given the legacy of GBV, it's pretty average stuff, and maybe not even that.