1998 saw the release of Robert Pollard's second solo album, Waved Out. In my opinion, Waved Out is the best of Pollard's solo work (just slightly higher than Not In My Airforce), and one of the best albums in his catalog including GBV titles. For starters, it includes two of the greatest tracks of Pollard's entire career, Make Use and Subspace Biographies. Second, the rest of the album is damn good too, without too much filler (we'll get to Showbiz Opera Walrus later). The album is a variety of sound quality, though after a few listens sounds like a cohesive album. I also find that it reminds me of earlier era GBV, say Propeller or even Alien Lanes...
Waved Out was the first solo Pollard album which I got a chance to listen to. I had read some reviews of Waved Out from various places, and the impression I got from the various reviews was that there were a couple of stellar tracks, and the rest was crap. So I put the disc in, and Make Use started playing. I immediately loved this song and couldn't care less what the rest of the album sounded like since Make Use itself is worth the purchase. It contains one of my favorite choruses ("Make use of the bold proposition/Make use the vast fashions/The passion is soon to burn out/Make use of the boring young heroes/Their efforts not wasted/Reward them for what they turn out"). The song is not only catchy, but quite possibly one of Pollard's most original tunes.
I also knew going in, that Subspace Biographies is often considered, if not one of Pollard's best songs, then perhaps his overall best. Therefore, after listening to Make Use, I immediately skipped to this wonderful track. I saw it described (I think on Amazon) as the best verse/chorus/chorus/chorus track ever recorded. I could not agree more with the description, as Subspace Biographies does have only one verse (maybe it should be called an intro?) and is followed by a repeated chorus which adds vocal layers each time through. There is some catchy lead guitar and I love the way Pollard sings "captain, are you sure they're coming in?" There is no way for me to prepare you for the awesomeness of this song, it is absolutely perfect.
I then skipped to the title track, Waved Out, since I heard a live version on GBV's old website and thought it sounded great. This song is a minute of psychedelic pop which strangely sounds like a grunged-out version of My Sharona by The Knack (well, the music anyway).
So after I got those three great tracks over with, I started to listen to the album as a whole, and I will admit that it didn't totally hit with me right away. However, now it is among my Pollard favorites. Whiskey Ships is just as good as the previously mentioned tracks, with a beautiful chorus and some odd effect throughout the verse along and some drunken cheering. There is a track on Hardcore UFO's Delicious Pie And Than You For Calling called I Invented The Moonwalk (And The Pencil Sharpener), which is a demo-sounding version of Whiskey Ships.
Wrinkled Ghost has a definate Tobin Sprout influence (gbvdb says he played piano on this one). It is a pop-infused happy-fest. Just Say The Word is a dark, low-fi, and brooding cut, as is the haunting Caught Waves Again. These two tracks are perfect examples of how the lower sound recording quality can actually add to the song instead of taking away from it. It may take a couple of listens to catch on with the two songs, however they do fit in with Waved Out nicely. Vibrations in the Woods has more of the grungy-fuzz guitar which ties the album together. Not in any way a spectular song, it also simply feels as though it belongs on this album (and it is probably the most Alien Lanes-ish track on the album).
I find that the there is a definate split point on Waved Out, after the 8th track, Wrinkled Ghost. I'm not sure where the split is on the vinyl, but on the CD I find that starting at Artificial Light there is a slight mood shift. Artificial Light itself can be seen as the transition. It is a slow minute long ballad.
People Are Leaving has dueling vocals, similar to Modest Mouse's Whenever You See Fit (except, both vocals are Pollard). The way the two separate vocals are layered together is done extremely well, as together they make the melody interesting. Steeple of Knives is the all-out rocker on the album, with a stadium style finale; a quick loud chorus and a fizzle-out guitar outro.
Rumbling Joker is one of the longer tracks at just under three minutes. It is similar to the earlier dark and slow tracks, Just Say The Word and Caught Waves Again, except with an even better melody. Pollard's vocals are on display on this song, as well as his knack for great lyrics.
Showbiz Opera Walrus is the throwaway on Waved Out. It is a phaser effect-driven polka type song. Other than a killer title, it is mostly a novelty song. Don't get me wrong though, I know there are fans of this track, however, I like it less and less the more I listen to it. It can be forgiven however since the rest of the album is just so great. Pick Seeds From My Skull is another weird one which has an effect which makes it sound like some kid (or Ween) is singing along with Pollard. Lastly, Second Step Language finishes the album off, with its nearly five minute length. It is mostly ambient guitar-driven noise which is a fitting conclusion.
I've heard reviewers say that Pollard gets more experimental on his solo albums. I don't hear that at all. As far as I'm concerned, there is no real difference between a solo Pollard album, and a Guided By Voices album. This is especially true with Not In My Airforce and Waved Out, which rate among the best of Pollard's catalog, as well as Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department if we can count that as a solo Pollard. As far as being an essential part of a GBV collection, Waved Out may be the most important non-GBV album, as it is even greater than many GBV-proper releases.
Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate Pollard/GBV playlist/box set):
01 Make Use
02 Vibrations In The Woods
03 Just Say The Word
04 Subspace Biographies
05 Caught Waves Again
06 Waved Out
07 Whiskey Ships
08 Wrinkled Ghost
09 Artificial Light
10 People Are Leaving
11 Steeple Of Knives
12 Rumbling Joker
13 Showbiz Opera Walrus
14 Pick Seeds From My Skull
15 Second Step Next Language