1999 was another huge year for Robert Pollard, and is important for three reasons: 1) It was the year Do The Collapse was released on TVT Records, Guided By Voices' most produced sounding album ever, and considered by some as Pollard's "sell out" record (more on that later), 2) this was the year that the Pollard side-projects truly began coming out (three this year alone with Lexo and the Leepers, Nightwalker, and a collaboration with Doug Gillard), and 3) the sheer output provided. Other than Do The Collapse and the three side-projects mentioned, 1999 saw the release of Robert Pollard's solo album Kid Marine and a GBV EP, Plugs For the Program, as well. After 1998, which had only a solo album released, the next couple years looked fairly positive for fans of Pollard. As for Do The Collapse, this is no sell-out record, simply a glimpse of what GBV could sound like with a polished studio sound...
You can hear it right away with Teenage FBI. Sound effects infused with Pollard's pop create something which sounds both truly GBV, yet completely different at the same time. You can hear this playing on the radio with the rest of the top 40 hits, but it still screams GBV. The orginal, non-commercialized version (which can be heard on the Human Amusements album) stays more true to what many of us have come to love about GBV. The Do The Collapse version, produced by Ric Ocasek, creates something completely different, yet still enjoyable and better than most stuff on the radio.
Zoo Pie is my personal favorite from the album, and partly due to the additional sound created by Ocesek's production (and by the way, this will be the last time I address the slick production on this album). The fuzzy vocals are perfect, especially during Pollard's scream of "...was to be a man", and the gorgeous chorus ("Come on baby do it/To me you can do it/Come on baby do it/I know that you can"). The additional chorus vocals during the second chorus are another nice touch.
The is something odd about Things I Will Keep. Can this be one of GBV's, I don't know, wimpier songs? This is as close as GBV can get to Matchbox 20-ish crap, yet still be fairly rocking. It is nowhere near my favorite GBV tunes, though it did make the best of collection Human Amusements.
Hold On Hope may be the most controversial song among fans of Guided By Voices. Is it the ultimate sappy sell-out song, or a fairly decent ballad? I'm happy with just considering it a decent ballad, though I do see how releasing it as a single could have gave people who were not familiar with GBV the wrong impression, and perhaps make fans of GBV question the decision.
In Stitches starts off with a pounding guitar riff, and follows with parts which would sound at home on a Circus Devil's album. This just may be one of my least favorite songs by GBV. It never builds out of its lull, other than some nice guitar soloing near the end.
Dragons Awake! is closer to what I consider a true GBV ballad, with its simple acoustic guitar and excellent lyrics ("Grand Peter/Might it be the pipes of Pan?/Softer tits will greet you/But they have been tapped/by suckers of the sap"). Dragons Awake! is a wonderful song which might have even found its way onto a one-disc greatest hits album if I were to actually make one.
Surgical Focus, from its opening riff, is begging to be on the radio. A fully realized rock tune with some great guitar work, and wonderful vocals. If songs such as this and Teenage FBI were the focus instead of Hold On Hope, maybe GBV would have got the breakthrough they were hoping for.
Optical Hopscotch continues the trend for Do The Collapse, of big choruses over mellow verses, or a radio hit formula. The chorus of "Now we are over here/Sketching the field of the spies" sounds big, and is geared towards arena rock. Mushroom Art follows, with its catchy main riff. At just under two minutes, this one finishes too soon. What is too soon for a GBV song? On an album of fully realized rock songs, finishing a song the way Mushroom Art is finished sounds out of place. On any other GBV album, well...
By now you may see that the argument of whether the slick production is a sell-out tactic is not important. The fact is, Do The Collapse rocks hard on its own merits. Much Better Mr. Buckles is blessed with an excellent chorus, and Wormhole has an incredible guitar riff following its chorus. Strumpet Eye is another one for the radio, a pop gem with great guitar and Pollard's knack for making a catchy tune.
Liquid Indian may have the most beautiful chorus among the GBV catalog. The great thing about this track is how the chorus feels so disassociated with the rest of the song, and comes right out of left field withs its beauty, as the verses are jagged and secretive. Does anyone else hear how Pollard sounds like Eddie Vedder on this track during the verses (and also on Circus Devils tracks like Are You Out With Me?).
Wrecking Now is a track which if I never heard before, would never guess it was GBV. The cutesy guitar is just out there, and the overall track sounds like something someone would find on one of those Singer/Songwriters collections. This is soft rock GBV style.
At four minutes, Picture Me Big Time is the longest track on Do The Collapse. The song hits a peak when Pollard sings "I will deliver to you, yeah, I will deliver to you", and it is the most epic feeling track on the album. The final track, An Unmarketed Product, has a bit of a pop-punk thing going for it, and may be the most fun-filled minute on the album.
I don't care what others say, I love the heavily produced GBV sound. If this type of production was given to their other albums, GBV would have been huge, though they would also not have the cult-like fans they do now. It is a definate trade-off. My personal thought on the matter is that GBV, or Robert Pollard in specific, is the perfect type of celebrity. He has legions of dedicated fans that can't wait to see what he does next, he is extremely successfull, is free artistically, and at the same time can be a regular human being without the fan frenzy crap that comes with being someone like Bono. Do The Collapse rocks just as hard as other GBV albums, though it is special. It is one of a kind in GBV's catalog.
Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate GBV/Pollard playlist/box set):
01 Teenage FBI
02 Zoo Pie
03 Things I Will Keep
04 Hold On Hope
05 In Stitches
06 Dragons Awake!
07 Surgical Focus
08 Optical Hopscotch
09 Mushroom Art
10 Much Better Mr. Buckles
12 Strumpet Eye
13 Liquid Indian
14 Wrecking Now
15 Picture Me Big Time
16 An Unmarketed Product