In 2006, the solo era of Robert Pollard truly began with two of the greatest albums of Pollard's; From a Compound Eye (which I'll refer to as FACE) and Normal Happiness. Both albums were done in collaboration with Todd Tobias (Pollard providing Tobias with the basic structure of the song, and Tobias recording most of the instruments), and both stand out as two of my personal favorites. There is not a bad song in the batch among these 26 tracks, and unlike some other Pollard solo albums that are full of recommended tracks (for example, Kid Marine or Coast to Coast Carpet of Love), the majority go beyond being simply good, and many are among the best in the entire Pollard catalog...
For me, quite a few tracks on FACE were instant classics on the first few listens, and a couple have since then also joined the ranks. FACE is generally a mix of pure pop songs and harder grunge rock, and it is the latter which make up the three epics which anchor the album together. Included among these are The Numbered Head, Love is Stronger than Witchcraft, and Conqueror of the Moon.
The Numbered Head is one of the heavier tracks of Pollard's, and the chorus of "Lets you go up/Lets you go up/Blurring your eyes/Lets you go up" is easily among my favorite moments in Pollard's music. The last half of the track is a long grunge outtro which may half been axed (or never created) if this was produced a few years prior. Love is Stronger than Witchcraft, the second single from the album, moves back and forth between cutesy guitar and heavy distorted riffs, with a bit of wonderful mayhem in the middle. The third epic, Conqueror of the Moon, feels a bit more like different songs pieced together to form a rock opera-like anthem, and is likely my second favorite track on the album.
Second favorite? As great as Conqueror of the Moon is, the honor of being the best song on FACE (and one Pollard's best ever) goes to Blessed in the Open Head. From its cut to the chase opening riff/verse riff, to its pure rock chorus ("Find a moment in your time/I say/Live the moment when you find/You'll blow your mind/You won't get dead/Is blessed in an open head"), this song is three minutes of awesome.
So what about some of the pop gems on FACE? Included in this group are Dancing Girls and Dancing Men, The Right Thing, I'm a Widow, I Surround You Naked, and the first single I'm a Strong Lion. I'm a Strong Lion took a while to grow on me, and the idea of having a lead off single that is only a minute long seemed a bit odd as well (but hey, wasn't the first single from Offspring's Ixnay on the Hombre the short and satisfying All I Want?). Like it or not, I guarantee you will not be able to get this song out of your head.
I've always felt that Dancing Girls and Dancing Men was meant to be the album's "hit" with its upbeat optimistic sound and lyrics ("Be thankful everyday/For everything and pray/For dancing girls and dancing men/to dance their lives away"). My personal favorite from this group has to be I'm a Widow (which has a main riff very similar to the track Kick Me and Cancel). Everything about this song screams radio single, even with its morbidly fun main line "I'm a widow and I'm hot to do you". I Surround You Naked follows a similar radio friendly pop mentality, and The Right Thing starts slow and builds to a powerful finish (with cow bell), also seemingly increasing studio polish as it builds as well.
A third type of track would be the weird songs. Four stand out as being in this category which always finds its way onto a Pollard album. The first, Field Jacket Blues, traps a possibly brilliant song (well, 25 seconds of one anyway) in between a fairly annoying guitar riff. Kensington Cradle, 50 Year Old Baby, and Denied first appear to be drowned out in overly-distorted vocals and guitar, a la Vampire in Titus, but there are good songs buried in there if you listen for it.
The last grouping of songs on FACE is the atmospheric ballads. Representing this group are the opener Gold, Fresh Threats..., Other Dogs Remain, and the amazing Cock of the Rainbow. Cock of the Rainbow is a beautiful song with eerie guitar and vocal melody with accompanying haunting backup "oooh's", and is one of my favorite tracks on the disc. Other Dogs Remain is similar in tone, and adds to the somewhat rock-opera feel of the album (even if unintentional).
I haven't went through every song individually, instead mentioning the highlights from the four groups of tracks (the heavy and epic, the pop gems, the slightly weird, and the atmosheric slow tracks). At 26 songs, there is not a bad song on the disc, though I can't really get into Payment for the Babies...
What really impresses me about FACE, is that the album does follow a theme musically, and truly feels like a concept album intended to be listened to as a whole. I am not sure if this was ever the intention, but it holds together just as well as, say, Under the Bushes Under the Stars. Along with its sister album Normal Happiness, the two albums are easily the ones I listen to more than any other Pollard-related offering. The two albums combined would likely (as of this writing - and if I was allowed to cheat a little) be listed as #1 as my favorite Robert Pollard release(s).
Tracklisting (songs in bold make the playlist):
02 Field Jacket Blues
03 Dancing Girls and Dancing Men
04 A Flowering Orphan
05 The Right Thing
06 U.S. Mustard Company
07 The Numbered Head
08 I'm a Widow
09 Fresh Threats, Salad Shooters and Zip Guns
10 Kick Me and Cancel
11 Other Dogs Remain
12 Kensington Cradle
13 Love is Stronger than Witchcraft
14 Hammer in your Eyes
15 50 Year Old Baby
16 I Surround You Naked
17 Cock of the Rainbow
18 Conqueror of the Moon
19 Blessed in an Open Head
20 A Boy in Motion
23 I'm a Strong Lion
24 Payment for the Babies
25 Kingdom Without