Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Guided By Voices: Do The Collapse (1999)

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
11 Wormhole
12 Strumpet Eye
13 Liquid Indian
14 Wrecking Now
15 Picture Me Big Time
16 An Unmarketed Product


Anonymous said...

You may be right: GBV might have met with greater success had they (or, more likely, TVT) pushed songs like "Teenage FBI" rather than "Hold on Hope." I remember being excited that they were going to appear on Conan O'Brien's show, only to be dismayed that they did "Hold On Hope." I didn't think that song would give the viewers any clue whatsoever into what GBV was about, and, like you, I actually think the song is fine.
On the other hand, I suspect that there was nothing else they could have done to attain arena-scale/top-20 success. If that's not what the people want to hear in that particular point in popular culture, it may not matter what you do. I used to think the equally incredible American Music Club would be more successful if only they did this or did that (e.g., push a particular song, play some particular venue or get airplay on some particular station), but was later horrified to read that they had actually tried a lot of those things. And still, few people listened.
In terms of fame and stature, I think Robert Pollard is in great shape; hopefully, he's rewarded enough financially too.

The Rock Robot said...

Thanks for the comment. Imagine if it was "Teenage FBI", or even "Zoo Pie" which they played on Conan that night instead of "Hold on Hope"...I'm sure it would have captured the interest of more people. But then again, as you said, it is up to the listeners to decide what they want to hear, and maybe at that point in time, GBV didn't have a chance. However, I still like to think of an alternate dimension where GBV is as huge as U2, and songs like "My Valuable Hunting Knife" and "Some Drilling Implied" are being played in huge stadiums to thousands of fans...

jazman said...

Yeah, fuckin' A right, I'll second and third these opinions. I mean, it's all music past the speakers now, but WHYOHWHYOHWHY, with songs like "Teenage FBI", "Surgical Focus", hell, even "Liquid Indian" on the disc did TVT decide to release "Hold on Hope"? My thought? Because they're wimped-out pussy emmeffers who make all decisions by committee and focus group, and decided that 1999 was the year of the "rock ballad", and Bob/GbV could be marketed as "rock balladeers". Oh, how wrong they were!

However, after owning and listening to this album for a while now, I definitely feel that this record is "lacking"...after a stellar run of long-players (well, three, I guess: B1000, Alien Lanes and UTBUTS), this album just doesn't cut it. It doesn't have the unique perspective presented on B1000 and refined on Alien Lanes; and the songs just aren't as strong as UTBUTS. And Ricky O's production just doesn't work for me...it removes the immediacy that Guided by Voices had presented their audience with all their previous recordings. When I read in Jim Greer's book that Rick wouldn't let them attend mixing sessions, and had the nerve to add instrumentation without them, that just steamed me. Now I like and respect his work with the Cars, but this ain't the Cars he's fuckin' with here. And frankly, I was a little dissappointed with Bob not kicking his skinny little arty ass for screwing with the record so much, and I believe that it's that reticence, that resignation to let "Mr. Big producer" do "his thing" on this record that makes it less than successful for me. I don't think Ocasek dominated the proceedings by any means; I mean, this doesn't sound like the Cars Do Dayton or anything like that. But what Rick O DIDN'T do is to bring out the unique, organic, life-like feeling I get from a good GbV record. A lot of this album just kind of sits there...great sound, good songs, but it leaves me a little indifferent.

And EVERYONE knows that Side One, Cut One is where you put the fucking single, TVT. Teenage FBI, you idiots!

jazman said...

Of course, it's probably for the best that GbV didn't get famous. If they did, Bob would have to put up with the yammering ninnies from Entertainment Weekly and Extra!

The Rock Robot said...

Hey jazman, always great to here from you!

Is the album really "lacking"? Well, maybe. But no matter what, "Do The Collapse" will always be a unique entry in the GBV catalog, the time they went for stardom (and ultimately failed...largely due to a bad choice for a single).

But there is nothing else like it, GBV or otherwise, and even its EP "Hold on Hope" sounds completely different.

Dan said...

i can't believe "optical hopscotch" made your playlist! or, indeed, most of this album.

Soymilk Revolution said...

to hell with haters! this album is fantastic. what a sound, what songs...Jack Rabid got this record, and so do i. it's gorgeous. top 5 bob, for real.

DigMeOut said...

Check out a podcast review of Do The Collapse by Guided By Voices on Dig Me Out at digmeoutpodcast.com, a weekly podcast dedicated to revisiting lost and forgotten rock of the 1990s.

Anonymous said...

Good album that would have been fantastic with the first half or so of the HOH EP and Shrine To The Dynamic Years included instead of some of the mid-tempo rockers here (In Stitches, Optical Hopscotch, etc)

My list:

Teenage FBI
Zoo Pie (would have sounded great after A Crick Uphill)
Things I Will Keep
Wrecking Now
Dragons Awake!
Surgical Focus
Mushroom Art *
Hold On Hope
An Unmarketed Product

* Why didn't he call his label Happy Yak Records? One of my favorite lines.