Robert Pollard is an indefatigably prolific artist, writing indie pop songs that make 99% of other songwriters jealous. Now that his main band, the legendary Guided By Voices have decided to call it a day, for a second time, Pollard has a new band, Ricked Wicky. Pollard describes the band as a “Sophisticated arena band”.
I Sell The Circus is available on CD.
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Notorious for shooting the shit to an almost excessive degree, Robert Pollard’s new projects come and go: the only thing you can be sure of is that if you kill one of them, five more will take its place. Ricked Wicky is the newest manifestation of Uncle Bob, and while it seems like a typically unthinking and inane title for a band, it actually has serious, sentimental undertones: Pollard claims this is the first band name he ever dreamt of using as a tween. Considering he’s spent the last ten years building up bands old and new and then destroying them with a click of his fingers -- including Guided By Voices, who released six new records and then were prematurely put down -- it’s endearing to see ‘I Sell The Circus’ speaking to that early time in his life when being in a band was a monumental, exciting task he could only fantasise about.
Though ‘I Sell The Circus’ is a tribute to Pollard’s halcyon days, when everything seemed mysterious and colourful and full of the future, it sounds more like a man coming to terms with the drab aftermath. As a greying indie rock star, he now uses his first ever band name to produce something that sounds accomplished but tedious, the work of a veteran musician. While less outlandish and decidedly avant-garde than recent Pollard home recordings (especially under the infuriating Teenage Guitar moniker), ‘I Sell The Circus’ has all the trappings of a latter-day release from the jangle pop pioneer. The melodies are collected from dry wells, the guitars are proudly sluggish -- taking the beautiful “Tour Guide At The Winston Churchill Memorial” as their aesthetic queue but failing to extract any of its sad acceptance -- and the songs’ structures are arbitrary, with the fade out on “Piss Face” cutting off life support way too early. Of course, Pollard is the king of self-parody; the record once more alludes to his favourite places on earth, circuses, and the back cover is a typical sepia-toned collage of surreal faces and cut-out words. And then there’s the self-serious way he treats his vocals on this record, which comes out sounding like he’s actively presenting himself as a rockist.
It’s nice to hear Pollard be less Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and more R.E.M., because that speaks to how his career began: alt rock before weirdo pop. Without the uncanny marriage of the two, though, ‘I Sell The Circus’ is just another record for his messy archive. There are a couple of knockout melodies, because you don’t forget how to write these kind of songs entirely -- while it meanders along with the rest of the record, “Uranus Flies” has an excellent, addictively repetitive outro that could slot in on ‘Under The Bushes Under The Stars’, and “Frenzy of Blame” navigates a Superchunk-inspired chord sequence with an almost nimble chorus. With thanks to these occasional moments of minute intrigue, ‘I Sell The Circus’ is a pleasant outing, and a nice reminder of how far Pollard has come -- from wannabe to indie rock professor with lots of stories to tell. He’ll always have his stories.
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