Robert Pollard, Normal Happiness

Robert Pollard, Normal Happiness

I’ve been reading the 33 1/3 book on Bee Thousand, which — your reviewer says, realizing his age — was a Guided By Voices album that was a revelation to everybody back in 1994, albeit a more gradual one for me than some. It was fraught with technical mistakes, low fidelity, songs at lengths that would normally be considered fragmentary, et cetera. And it took me dozens of listens to get it, to care, to be obsessed, and to have it become a touchstone to the point where it was a priority for me to time an ocean crossing to see Guided By Voices’ farewell tour.

But it’s only because we weren’t privy to Guided By Voices’ history that Bee Thousand was as alien (and therefore striking) as it was, and it’s for this reason that maybe Robert Pollard’s solo career in general and Normal Happiness in particular has been neglected as is has, even by Guided By Voices who — not unreasonably, I hasten to add — have decided that maybe 8 or 9 Pollard/GBV albums are all they need. And whereas Bee Thousand initially perplexed because of lack of familiarity, Normal Happiness arguably suffers from the reverse problem: the recording has some rough edges sanded off (though it’s downright primitive compared to those big GBV studio records), the obscure influences are now somewhat familiar (although surprising — I’d swear “Accidental Texas Who” is ripping of a Halo of Flies riff), and the collection of the songs is arguably his most approachable ever. It’s so easy to get into that its charms were, to my ears at first, almost invisible.

And, like Bee Thousand, the repeated listens are working their magic. As with that album, it’s track 3 (“Supernatural Car Lover”) from where it unfolds, but there are nuggets of genius strewn everywhere, with the sun-strewn shards of “Gasoline Ragtime” my current discovery of choice. Pollard may never reach as wide of an audience as he did solely due to his profligacy, but Normal Happiness is proof that his creative powers are undimmed, and the treasures are waiting there, should you only want to find them.

(Merge Records -- P.O. Box 1235, Chapel Hill, NC. 27514; http://www.mergerecords.com/; Robert Pollard -- http://www.robertpollard.net/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Friday, March 2nd, 2007. Filed under Reviews.

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