The intro starts slowly, and begins to build up. Laundry & Lasers is the first track on the first album under the Guided By Voices name in about eight years, and it needs to tell us what the new GBV is all about. And when I say new, I actually mean "classic", as this is the reuniting of Robert Pollard with Tobin Sprout (vocals, guitar), Mitch Mitchell (guitars), Greg Demos (bass), and Kevin Fennell (drums). These are the guys that brought us Propeller, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars. Are they going to continue with the mid-fi sounds that UTBUTS left off, or chart a new course for GBV?
Pollard's vocal's kick in, and they are definitely on the mid-fi range, so that question is answered. But then, the driven guitar and drums join in, and the classic lineup starts out with a rocker. Its a great song, and it reminds me of other stellar opening tunes like Man Called Aerodynamics for UTBUTS or A Salty Salute from Alien Lanes. But would the rest of the album live up to potential gleamed from Laundry & Lasers?
In a quick answer, not really. The grungy mid-fi sound from Laundry & Lasers is as theme throughout Let's Go Eat the Factory, but most of these songs are not as satisfying as the intro track. The Head is a short song that never really goes anywhere, but it surely is heavier. It sounds like a classic-era EP or single track. Imperial Racehorsing is another grungy one that has potential, and maybe after a few more listens it'll stick. How I Met My Mother is a one-minute tune that has grown on me over repeated listens, and it also falls into this sound category (after you listen, I'm sure you'll hear what I mean - these songs all share a similar sound).
The last two grungers are Either Nelson and Cyclone Utilities (Remember Your Birthday). When listening to both of these I am immediately reminded of songs on the various Suitcase box sets (especially Either Nelson). They both have a better song buried under the (albeit likely on purpose) shoddy production, a symptom that many songs on Suitcase suffer from. One of the things I loved about the more recent Boston Spaceships and Robert Pollard releases is how songs from Suitcase really popped after getting the re-make treatment. Maybe I have been spoiled with those releases, but I don't think that something sounding like it would fit on a Suitcase release is a complement for a new GBV album.
I may as well talk about the toss-offs now as well (and get to the more positive points after that). It wouldn't really be a GBV album without some toss-offs, and for this album those are The Things That Never Need and The Big Hat and Toy Show. The Tobin track Old Bones is up for consideration as well, though it is at least somewhat interesting, and I'm sure there are fans of the song with its dreamy orchestral sound. Other more bleh tracks (not toss-offs mind you) include the thirty second Go Rolling Home and The Room Taking Shape, the former being more of an idea than a song (Wire Greyhounds it is not), and the latter sounds like a drunk uncle singing at a campfire. OK, negativity over, let's talk about some of the better songs.
Sprout sings (and wrote) quite a few songs on Let's Go Eat the Factory, and for me, it seems difficult for Sprout to make a bad song. At the same time, I find that Sprout songs just don't have the same potential to be great compared to Pollard's songs, but that might have more to do with Sprout's quiet and humble approach to his songs. Spiderfighter is a great song title, and at first seems like a verse verse verse kind of thing; a heavier song for Sprout that feels right at home on this album, but relies on a catchy guitar riff. The best part of this track, however, is when it shifts gears at the end. It becomes a soft ballad with Sprout repeating the line "and now is the time to make up your mind". Who Invented the Sun is fairly underwhelming, though pretty, but there is a Tobin gem on Let's Go Eat the Factory, and its called Waves. Waves sounds just like his GBV songs of old, with its My Bloody Valentine vocals just under the fuzz sound, and the beautiful chorus ("As the waves crash around me") is almost haunting.
One Pollard track just came shy of making the list; My Europa is an okay lo-fi, tremolo filled ballad (I think that effect is tremolo - please let me know if I'm wrong), but its the type of song he has done much better many times before. Just making the list is Hang Mr. Kite, but I could be swayed either way. It has that rock opera Circus Devils feel, and it is the most polished song on this album. Other tracks that are not necessarily remarkable, but a cut above the average include Doughnut for a Snowman and Chocolate Boy. Doughnut brings back the Pollard sound from his 2006-2007 releases, and Chocolate Boy is a fun short ditty.
Other than Laundry & Lasers, there are two absolute standouts on Let's Go Eat the Factory, and worth the price of admission alone. The Unsinkable Fats Domino is an instant classic, and the first classic lineup reunion hit. It is catchy and a lot of fun, and so is God Loves Us, the other instant classic. It sounds like both Pollard and Sprout are sharing vocals on this one. Both tracks don't make the two minute mark, but are a quick shot of brilliant rock n' roll. Lastly, there is a song that I'm still not sure what I think of - the final track We Won't Apologize for the Human Race. At four minutes, it is the longest song on the album. It has a marching rhythm verse that changes to a pop chorus before getting a bit strange. In the end, the catchy chorus wins over, and I'm putting it on the list.
Let's Go Eat the Factory is a good album, and like many other GBV-related albums, even the not-so-great tracks have more oomph when listening to the album as a whole. I think it has a distinctive sound that holds it together, and the band has done a fairly good job recapturing their sound of old, if not a bit heavier than their early 90's sound. I'm also convinced that the songs will grow on me even more with repeated listens. Does it stand with the great GBV albums of the 90's? Well, no it doesn't. But given that this is just one of three GBV albums released in 2012 alone, along with another EP and album in 2013 and countless b-sides, there is no reason that this reunion of the classic lineup can't create another era of GBV.
Tracklisting (songs in bold make the playlist):
01 Laundry & Lasers
02 The Head
03 Doughnut for a Snowman
05 Hang Mr. Kite
06 God Loves Us
07 The Unsinkable Fats Domino
08 Who Invented the Sun
09 The Big Hat and Toy Show
10 Imperial Racehorsing
11 How I Met My Mother
13 My Europa
14 Chocolate Boy
15 The Things That Never Need
16 Either Nelson
17 Cyclone Utilities (Remember Your Birthday)
18 Old Bones
19 Go Rolling Home
20 The Room Taking Shape
21 We Won't Apologize for the Human Race