Alright, I get to go through my first Robert Pollard solo album for this guide! What is the difference between a solo Robert Pollard album and a Guided By Voices release? For the most part I do not really see a difference. Perhaps on future solo Pollard releases like Fiction Man and Motel of Fools, it is a more experimental aspect which makes the largest difference. However, just the first four tracks alone on Not In My Airforce rate among Pollard's finest (not to mention Chance to Buy an Island hiding out at track nine). Maybe it is the group of acoustic tracks tacked on to the end of Not in My Airforce which make this a more experimental outing. With Sunfish Holy Breakfast, Tonics and Twisted Chasers, and the phenomenal Under the Bushes, Under the Stars all released in 1996, how did Pollard have time to create this solo release? And more importantly, how did he manage to fill it with such prime music...
Maggie Turns to Flies starts the disc off. It has some backward vocals/music intro, and then kicks into a punk rock dream, with ghost lyrics which highlight Pollard's knack for a cool-yet-simple chorus. Quicksilver sounds like one of those acoustic tracks found on various GBV EPs, and at just over a minute, is one of the longer ones. It has a nice melody with what I find are cryptic lyrics.
Girl Named Captain jumps into a monster riff, and shares many similarities to Maggie Turns to Flies. Neither really have a chorus, except for a change in the verses which I suppose counts as the chorus. It is an excellent rocker, and is followed by another slightly less-rock, and more pop tune, Get Under It. It has one of my favorite lyrics, "Arouse me to ultra-maroon/You wrinkled old moon", and one of the catchiest choruses in Pollard's catalog.
Release the Sunbird took a while to grow on me, and now I sometimes find myself listening to the song on repeat. It is an acoustic number with a gorgeous melody, which turns to the creepy and morbid in a twist at the end. John Strange School is an odd one. Near the end, a haunting chiming (organ?) sound kicks in which is simply hypnotic. I am not a big fan of Parakeet Troopers (you don't want to read reviews from someone who likes every song do you? Maybe you do...), but I do admit it follows the weird and creepy path the previous two songs started.
One Clear Minute (which is actually about three quarters a minute long), is somewhat silly, with the "boobooboobooboo" part and all. However it makes me laugh (well, at least smile) everytime I hear it, so it makes the playlist. The underlying song is fairly nice too. Now onto the beautiful and excellent Chance to Buy an Island. If I made a one-disc best of Robert Pollard disc (including GBV), I think this song would make the cut. The chorus of "Can I offer you a find?/Can I oil your rusty mind?/If I tell you all I know/Can I pack it up and go?" is one of Pollard's absolute best vocal performances.
I've Owned You For Centuries is another slower track which is a showcase for Pollard's great vocals. Perhaps Not in My Airforce is the best album when it comes to Pollard's singing. The Ash Gray Proclamation does not hit me the same way the other acoustic tracks of Pollard's do, though I am sure I will receive a comment regarding my non-inclusion of this track. I am not sure why, but Flat Beauty reminds me of Unabaited Vicar of Scorched Earth from Tonics and Twisted Chasers. It is another one of Pollard's all out rockers, with a nice (bridge?) part near the end.
King of Arthur Avenue makes the list for its great ending, which comes out of nowhere. Generally a plain acoustic number, the song hits a point where some jarring distorted guitar kicks in for two short bursts. Roofer's Union Fight Song includes the title lyric, which makes it somewhat important, but is generally not a stand out. Psychic Pilot Clocks Out is an epic at four minutes length. I think there are better songs which I left off the playlist, and this one is sitting on the edge, with the final part of the song ("I feel life passing on by us") hitting a perfect moment of rock putting it on the playlist.
The album finishes off with seven tracks of Pollard and his guitar solo. I'm not quite sure why these were put on Not in My Airforce, for they sound like they are from a completely different place. Did it Play is the best of the bunch, but even it does not hit the high standard found on many similar tracks in Pollard's catalog. They are not bad songs, and are actually quite interesting. However, I can't force myself to like something if it just isn't happening.
Overall, Not in My Airforce has some of Pollard's best heavier/rocking tracks, and is in my opinion some of his best singing. In fact, if the final seven tracks were not part of the album, I feel Not in My Airforce would rate among Pollard's best albums. I only passed on three songs out of the group. I've read reviews elsewhere (likely Amazon editorial reviews, though I'm too lazy to check it out) citing this album (and Waved Out) as a hit-and-miss album; that you must sort through the album to find the gems. I liked it the first time I heard it, and have no idea what album that particular reviewer was listening too.
Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate GBV/Pollard playlist/box set):
01 Maggie Turns to Flies
03 Girl Named Captain
04 Get Under It
05 Release the Sunbird
06 John Strange School
07 Parakeet Troopers
08 One Clear Minute
09 Chance to Buy an Island
10 I've Owned You For Centuries
11 The Ash Gray Proclamation
12 Flat Beauty
13 King of Arthur Avenue
14 Roofer's Union Fight Song
15 Psychic Pilot Clocks Out
16 Prom is Coming
18 Did it Play
19 Double Standards Inc.
20 Punk Rock Gods
21 Meet My Team
22 Good Luck Sailor
Not in My Airforce at Amazon