Friday, October 16, 2020

Guided By Voices: The Bears for Lunch (2012)

TOTAL SCORE: 51, AVG: 2.68

Following in the footsteps of Let's Go Eat the Factory and Class Clown Spots a UFO, the classic GBV lineup bring out another solid effort, and the third album released in 2012 alone. However, whereas the previous two albums were cohesive records with a range of highs and lows that sounded distinctly like GBV, The Bears For Lunch is more like a collection of separate pieces that has the edges smoothed out, leaving out the lows, but also the highs...
    I first want to point out that I like The Bears For Lunch, and I think it is a good album. I struggled to understand why I like both Factory and Class Clown more than this one though. I'll confess that I do not do a lot of research on how an album is put together (and if I did I would never get to writing anything down), but regardless of the method used to create these three albums in 2012, the first two sound like a band recording an album. Even though Pollard creates music under many different monikers, there is still a sound that resonates as GBV that Factory and Class Clown both have. Whereas the previous two albums did have a united band feel throughout, The Bears for Lunch sounds more distinctly like an album made up as separately contributed "parts" being put together. 

    For example, a lot of the Pollard songs on this album are very reminiscent of the sounds and styling of his solo efforts. Released as a 7", Hangover Child, with its Todd Tobias produced sounds, seems like it would have been destined for one of Pollard's solo outings. Overall on this album there is more bleed-over with what is considered for a Pollard solo record and what makes the cut for GBV. Pollard solo releases would stop being a thing completely after 2016, so it makes sense with the extreme amount of content that Pollard was putting out at this time that the line would start to blur. When I listen to tracks on a playlist I don't always remember what album a song comes from, and I could guess Hangover Child would be from something like Coast to Coast Carpet of Love if it wasn't for the app telling me otherwise. In a similar boat is The Challenge is Much More. I would describe this one as taking one of the tracks from the Tobias-produced Pollard albums and add some extra oomph to give it some additional edge and stadium appeal. I'm not saying this is a bad thing in any way; the distorted guitars over an otherwise poppy tune works well, and The Challenge is Much More is one of the centerpieces on the album.

    White Flag, She Lives in an Airport, and Everywhere Is Miles From Everywhere are all similarly in this category (though the latter has a slight Universal Truths & Cycles vibe), and are all exceptionally good songs. Another "single", White Flag is a bit of a grower requiring repeated listens to bring it completely out. It has a single verse and then a long outro, and over time I find myself enjoying it more and more. She Lives in an Airport is a real fun song with great lyrics and melody. It would seem like a great candidate for performing live (though it doesn't appear to have been) and follows a verse-chorus->bigger chorus pattern that makes it sound like a more straight-forward pop-rock "hit".

    Then there are the Pollard-penned tracks that are a little more recognizable as GBV, in that they are a combination of unique, dirty (sound-wise), and interesting while maintaining that exceptional quality of melody and ear-candy. The intro King Arthur the Red almost seems like an update on the classic Captain's Dead, and it is a very strong opener (Captain's Dead would have made a good opener too). GBV is known for its self referential nature, such as having songs that share titles with albums showing up on EPs. In this case the line "seven strokes from heaven's edge" is very similar to the title of the Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia outtake 7 Strokes to Heaven's Edge

    Finger Gang has that off-the-wall uniqueness that Pollard and GBV pull off so often. It has about 8 words being repeated for its entirety, but it is just crafted so well that it ends up being a lot of fun. Up Instead of Running is a driven rock track that picks up at the end with backing vocals kicking in while Pollard croons "just how up and running can one be?" There is fun to be had with Amorphous Surprise and its prog rock weirdness and complexity, as well as Dome Rust, which is a track with potential marred by its low fidelity. 

    The Tobin Sprout tracks on The Bears For Lunch are what share the most DNA with Factory and Class Clown. As with those two albums, Sprouts consistency in delivering just solid good songs is present. If there is one area where The Bears For Lunch exceeds the excellent Class Clown Spots a UFO, it is that 
    Sprouts contributions are better here. Skin to Skin Combat is my favorite of his songs on the album. Sprout has an uncanny ability to craft melodies that match his soft-spoken vocal style with fuzz-pop grooves, and this one is no exception. Waving at Airplanes is another good Sprout tune with a beautiful chorus of "waving at airplanes/over the tree tops/where can you go now?/while you're waving at airplanes". Waking Up the Stars is a more folksy ballad from Sprout with harmonic backing vocals and finger picking guitar. Lastly, The Corners Are Glowing Starts off sounding like the intro to My Valuable Hunting Knife, and it is another solid tune.

    For all of my talk about what sounds GBV-ish or not, or what is more in the style of Pollard's solo offerings, You Can Fly Anything Right is very interesting. Out of nowhere this song sounds like an outtake right out of Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes thematically, recording-wise, and lyrically. Recorded on a boombox this track just adds to the jigsaw-like structure of The Bears for Lunch (but it is a very pretty song).

    As for toss-offs there really aren't any. Have a Jug and Smoggy Boy are short bursts of creativity not given time to simmer, and Tree Fly Jet is somewhat fun meandering noise-rock. Definitely up for debate is The Military School Dance Dismissal; a low-key piano tune with poetic lyrics that acts as an interlude (or artistic glue) for the album that I think will resonate with lots of fans even if ultimately falling short for me.

    Again, The Bears For Lunch is a good album, and it has good songs. There is just something that makes it seem less of an album, and more like a compilation that I didn't get with the first two classic-lineup reformed records. Whereas both Let's Go Eat the Factory and Class Clown Spots a UFO are greater than the sum of their parts, The Bears For Lunch really is the sum of its parts. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, but to me, it does put it behind those two in my books.

    You can read about the new ranking style here. And without further ado, here is the ranking of The Bears For Lunch:

    Among Bob's Best
    -- none

    -- none

    Almost Gems
    01 King Arthur the Red
    07 The Challenge Is Much More
    12 She Lives in an Airport
    15 Up Instead of Running

    They're Good
    02 The Corners are Glowing
    04 Hangover Child
    06 Finger Gang
    08 Waving at Airplanes
    10 White Flag
    11 Skin to Skin Combat
    14 Waking Up the Stars
    18 You Can Fly Anything Right
    19 Everywhere Is Miles From Everywhere
    They're OK
    05 Dome Rust
    17 Amorphous Surprise

    Could Live Without
    03 Have a Jug
    09 The Military School Dance Dismissal
    13 Tree Fly Jet
    16 Smoggy Boy

    Toss-Offs & Throwaways
    -- none

    Given the scoring above, the album would get 51 points total (and an average of 2.68). 

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