Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Robert Pollard and His Soft Rock Renegades: Choreographed Man of War (2001)

What's this? Is it Pollard's first solo EP? At only 10 tracks, the usual GBV fan likely expects a full 10 to 15 minutes of music. But not this time folks, as Robert Pollard and His Soft Rock Renegades (Jim Macpherson and Greg Demos) are here to rock you like Lexo and The Leapers did back in 1999! Thought this time, the fun lasts over a half-hour and the guitar is just a bit heavier. Its like an album full of Skin Parade (okay, maybe an exaggeration, but still pretty close). This is definately among Pollard's heavier albums, and there is not a single dud on the entire thing. Pick this one up as soon as you possibly can, you will not be disappointed...

I Drove A Tank is the first track on Choreographed Man Of War, and like many opening GBV tracks, shows promise that the album is going to be another killer. It is a three minute rock-fest which takes its cues from stadium rock (and there goes the Soft Rock Renegades moniker).

With the length of GBV-related songs averaging at under two minutes, we have come to expect songs to end suddenly, often when they appear to be going to the next level. She Saw The Shadow is one of those tracks that could have been a classic with a little something special added near the end, a moment of genius that comes straight from left field. However, it ends with a whimper after a brilliant middle where the track begins to pick up.

Edison's Memos sounds like something straight off of Earthquake Glue, which leads me to another point of this album: it has the feel of a later GBV EP (such as Prince Whippet). At about this point, it is already apparent the album's goal is to be a straight forward rock album, minus some of the "weirdness" of other Pollard albums. This track does not have any real stand out aspects, but it is still probably my favorite track on the disc, which I enjoy more every time I hear it. At nearly five minutes in length, it almost has an epic feel to it.

7th Level Shutdown has a great title, and some strange effect on the guitar, and may be the closest thing to "soft rock" on the album. It is a good example of a song that just isn't great enough, different enough, or even bad enough, to be visible among the thousands of Pollard's songs, and has pretty much gone unnoticed on my GBV radar. It will likely continue to do so.

Alright, there may be a bit of weird on Choreographed Man Of War...welcome 40 Yards to the Burning Bush, a song which at two minutes in length still feels like it was partially constructed with more than one song. Just when you are fairly sure the track is an instrumental, Pollard kicks into some rock with a smoking finish. How many times have I thought, "this track ain't gonna make the list", until something wonderful happens in the last twenty seconds?

Aeriel is smothered in reverb (or is that chorus effect?), and has a two minute intro until Pollard sings during the last minute transforming the song into something completely different. I'm reminded a bit of Pink Floyd during this last part, which generally speaking is always a good thing. Citizen Fighter gets the album back on the fast/heavy track ("Hands off and no more touching permitted/When she explodes she could strip you to skeleton").

Kickboxer Lightning puts me in a bit of a dilemma. It is a fine song, but I think about some of the future posts (Universal Truths and Cycles, Earthquake Glue, Half Smiles of the Decomposed, & Prince Whippet to name a few), and the song has nothing on those album's tracks. Therefore, it is truly riding the fence on making my playlist, but it is another full-on rocker in the style of "Everywhere With Helicopter" which would be a single on a lesser band's album. Hmmmm, it makes the list...for now.

Bally Hoo continues the rock n' roll wonderland which is Choreographed Man of War, where Pollard gives us his best stadium "Baby hold on, hoooooo". The song also acts as a somewhat conclusion with its reference to the first track, I Drove A Tank. I Drove A Tank's line "I drove a tank in a running war / I didn't know what the shit was for" is concluded here with "So now you know what the deal is for / You'll never know who to break it to / I'm really out there, but I like the view". Maybe I'm just reading more into this than really exists, but this part of the song even sounds like I Drove A Tank.

And that concludes the album. Oh wait, there is one more song, even though Bally Hoo was the perfect conclusion! Instrument Beetle, a sprawling seven minutes of driven guitar, sneaks onto the album. This track has never really hit me like the rest of the album does, though I must credit the attempt at epic-ness. I also admit the part where Pollard mopes "I'm nobody to play with" is slightly creepy. Maybe it'll grow on me in time.

This might be Pollard's heaviest album, with heavily driven guitars around every corner, and a focus on stadium rock. I would also say it is highly accessible to the new fan. It is consistently good, without any true stand-out tracks , nor any which feel out of place. Rock on.

Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate Pollard/GBV playlist/box set):

01 I Drove A Tank
02 She Saw The Shadow
03 Edison's Memos
04 7th Level Shutdown
05 40 Yards To The Burning Bush
06 Aeriel
07 Citizen Fighter
08 Kickboxer Lightning
09 Bally Hoo
10 Instrument Beetle


Anonymous said...

wonderful album, wonderful songs. definitely a winner.

Dan said...

yeah, "bally hoo" reprises both "i drove a tank" and "citizen fighter." kinda cool.

Ben said...

You should really go back and give 7th Level Shutdown another listen---It's got an unbelievable melody, fantastic production effects (which dont always work for GBV songs, but they do here) and a really sad wistful quality in the lyrics.

Great job in general though; I can't wait for the next installments...esp for Earthquake, Half-Smiles, F.A.C.E, etc

The Rock Robot said...

Listened to this the other day on the way to work...I sat in my car in the parking lot so I could finish listening to Citizen Fighter -> that song rocks!

Anonymous said...

I quite get the Soft Rock Renegades moniker; as you say its (mostly) straight rock stylings don't really need repeated listenings to get into, and must have come as light relief after the excellent but far from jubilant Kid Marine. (I wish the album would end with Bally Hoo and not the Instrument Beetle downer though. And why oh why is that one taking up valuable Crickets space?) Probably his most easily enjoyable pre-Keene album.

My list:

I Drove A Tank - Demos' antics and Pollard's reaction on The Electrifying Conclusion embody this stomper. Bob's most exhilarating Who number?
She Saw The Shadow - Unusual straight story telling here for a nice change
Edison's Memos - One of his best. Soaring. The radiation line echoes Burns Carpenter. A talented author could make excellent short stories of a lot of Bob's ideas.
7th Level Shutdown - Another all time fave with a heartfelt lover's conundrum. Shoulda been a hit.
Aeriel - Hypnotic little ditty. The relief and resignation in the delivery of those final lines...
Citizen Fighter - Yup; it rocks!
Bally Hoo - Should have been the finale; great fun reprised. "We've come to see the mice play some rock'n'roll, yeah" don't exactly offer existential angst. But wait! Keep on cruising and the Motel of Fools is just around the corner!