Saturday, November 04, 2006

Guided By Voices: Universal Truths and Cycles (2002)

It's been a while, but I'm back. I woke up this morning and thought that it was about time to get another entry up. Let me start off my saying that for quite a while, this was the GBV album that I listened to the least. It had the least impact on first listen, and took the longest to grow on me. That being said, I now find myself in a 'new era' GBV phase, and Universal Truths and Cycles is getting a lot of plays. It is unique in the GBV catalog with its mix of slick production and heavier rock, somewhat in the vein of Choreographed Man of War. I can tell you right off the bat that there are going to be a lot of bolded tracks on this one...

Universal Truths and Cycles starts off with the absolute best GBV song to clock in under forty seconds, Wire Greyhounds. From the opening lines of "My tongue that moves slow a minute before the evil street...", this album never lets up. One of the heaviest, loudest, and grungiest GBV songs is offered next, as Skin Parade marches through three minutes pure rock bliss. I like to listen to this track on my drive to work to both help me wake up, and get pumped up for the day.

Zap brings us back to that warm, familiar, Pollard-acoustic one-minute ditty, before leading into Christian Animation Torch Carriers. Universal Truths and Cycles has a couple of "epic" sounding tracks, and this cut is one of them. It is a constant climb, a buildup of sounds and intensity, which peaks during the final minute ("However will you try to hide/Within their eyes?/Within them in life?"). Cheyenne is an incredibly catchy pop tune which gets stuck in that part of your brain that kicks in when you are brushing your teeth. Cheyenne is in no way near my favorite tracks on this album, though it may be the one that I have playing in my head the most.

The Weeping Bogeyman is the first track from UT&C to get passed by for the playlist, as it may best be seen as an intro to the great Back to the Lake. I've seen a video (I believe a fan-made video) for this track on You-Tube that was just unbelievable. Back to the Lake is probably the best candidate for a single on the album (which it was), as it highlights Pollard's melodic genius, as well as Gillard's amazing guitar work (and how about that gorgeous piano). Love 1 brings back the heavy in a minute-long adrenaline drive which I enjoy more and more with each listen.

Storm Vibrations is epic #2 on UT&C. The chorus is just beautiful ("Confusing emotions - deliberately/Does it hurt you?/To love, I mean?"), and the song's five minute length also lends a hand to the epic feel of the track. Factory of Raw Essentials slows things down a bit, and truly sounds like something that would be found on one of Pollard's solo albums. And of course, there is Everywhere With Helicopter. Along with Back to the Lake, they were the only two tracks on the GBV's greatest hits album to represent UT&C. Everywhere With Helicopter doesn't slow down for one bit as it cruises through great guitar solo's and a perfect driven rhythm.

Pretty Bombs is another single-sounding almost-ballad (it even has violins). This is my favorite track on UT&C rated on Pollard's vocals alone. It never seems to reach the peak it promises throughout, instead going for a disjointed back-and-forth sound with shifts from the rock n' roll to the orchestra, finally blending them in the final moments. Eureka Signs is what I consider the finale in the trilogy of epic-sounding tunes on UT&C. It even has a hint of Everyone Thinks I'm a Raincloud-style guitar.

Other than having a wicked intro, Wings of Thorn has an incredible constant rhythm. At just under five minutes, Car Language seems to drag on a bit. The main riff is dark, and the song feels like something that should be at the end of the album. I am putting it on the list, though it is the closest track on UT&C to make the list, yet be so close to not making it. From a Voice Plantation has a bit of a Circus Devils thing going, and the last few moments of this track are spectacular.

I'm passing on the folksy The Ids Are Alright, and just loving the title track Universal Truths and Cycles. I love the rhythm guitar in this track, and the bittersweet pop feel (and yet, there is something about this track which sounds downright depressing). Father Sgt. Christmas Card finishes things off in a hauntingly send off ("for the la la la la la").

Universal Truths and Cycles is rock brilliance. Looking back I can't believe it took so long for this album to set in the way it finally has. There is not a bad track on it, and it will surely rank among GBV's finest to anyone who enjoys the heavier, more produced sound.

Tracklisting (songs in bold make my ultimate Pollard/GBV playlist/box set):
01 Wire Greyhounds
02 Skin Parade
03 Zap
04 Christian Animation Torch Carriers
05 Cheyenne
06 The Weeping Bogeyman
07 Back to the Lake
08 Love 1
09 Storm Vibrations
10 Factory of Raw Essentials
11 Everywhere With Helicopter
12 Pretty Bombs
13 Eureka Signs
14 Wings of Thorn
15 Car Language
16 From a Voice Plantation
17 The Ids Are Alright
18 Universal Truths and Cycles
19 Father Sgt. Christmas Card

10 comments:

Dan said...

"ids" is one of my favorites. good tune and some of pollard's best lyrics in my opinion.

nice review. you must keep 'em coming!

jazman said...

I'll have more later, but...

...this is the 21st century album Pete Townshend would give his left nut to have written for the Who. Powerful, fully realized classic rock, in the best sense of the term. Liberally sprinkled with Bob's unique tastes.

And IMHO, a great song title: "Christian Animation Torch Carriers"

sriver said...

Great review and somehow I just feel the same about VT&C at the moment. A few days ago I listened to it again after a long period and I discovered how many great tunes it has. I still remember having a serious headache after my first listen and so I put it away too quickly. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

i still don't understand why you'd leave off two of 19 songs. obviously you like the album. so why not leave the album in tact the bob intended? who knows, maybe if you continue listening to the album in its entirety you might wind up liking all 19 tracks....

Anonymous said...

This is one of the few GBV releases that hasn't grown on me. In contrast to, say, Mag Earwhig!, I never had an epiphany where I suddenly realized, "What was I thinking? This is brilliant!" In fact, The Pipe Dreams of Instant Prince Whippet, which I think is basically outtakes from UTAC, is a much better record. But there are some fine songs on UTAC, for sure, esp. the lovely Wings of Thorn. And, for the sake of trivia, I'd say there's a noticeable Bowie influence (esp. on vocals), most clearly on Father Sgt. Christmas Card.

The Rock Robot said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! I am of the belief that Pipe Dreams + UT&C would have made a killer double album -> especially if Pipe Dreams was kept intact on one disc.

jazman said...

" 'In contrast to, say, Mag Earwhig!, I never had an epiphany where I suddenly realized, "What was I thinking? This is brilliant!' "

Don't worry, Anonymous...you'll have that epiphany. It's there in the grooves (or pits, I guess), and someday you will let it out.

The Rock Robot said...

...as for the comment as to why I would leave two songs off the playlist...

The purpose of this blog was originally a way for me to separate the good songs from the bad, and therefore create a Pollard playlist that would only have the songs I like.

Over time, and as I have been writing, I noticed that I have a strong inclination to like most of the songs (even the ones I know are bad).

Just because I create the playlist does not mean that I would stop listening to full albums as a whole.

Scott said...

thanks for the blog, this is a nice and very helpful set-up. i've been coming back repeatedly over the last few months, i've probably read just about everything here. universal truths & cycles kicks ass, but it took a while for me to come around to it, too.

i've basically been a longtime fan of the early stuff since the early 90s vogue, but was one of those guys that lost the plot when tobin & mitch et al were axed to leave and replaced by cobra verde. even mag earhwig! has been a recent revelation to me. i don't know what occasioned it, maybe me wishing for more of that classic pollard sound, but in november i started hunting down stuff like suitcase and earthquake glue and speak kindly. i've been on a whirlwind ever since.

anyway, thanks for the project. it looks like it hasn't been updated in a while, but it's got a nice design and it's obvious that over the course of a year you put a lot of work into it. definitely a great place to stop for reviewer-type info on the band and its many releases.

Anonymous said...

I love this album, and have done since I first heard it. After listening to (almost) everything Pollard had released up to and including Of Course You Are, this was the first one I bought. (Now I have most of them.) Perfect hit-ditty-epic-deep cut ratio.

My list:

Wire Greyhounds
Back To The Lake
Everywhere With Helicopter
Christian Animation Torch Carriers
Cheyenne
Zap
Love 1
Eureka Signs
Wings Of Thorn
Factory Of Raw Essentials
From A Voice Plantation
Universal Truths And Cycles
Father Sgt Christmas Card