Written by 4:40 am Audiophile Music

Guided By Cheap Trick’s Bun E.

Mark Smotroff finds GBV joy via Cheap Trick

The new solo album by Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos contains perhaps the best new Guided By Voices (GBV) record you’ve heard in while. The opening track on the album — which is called Greetings From Bunezuela — features none other than GBV front-man Robert Pollard on lead vocals, performing a song from his 1999 collaboration with Cobra Verde-era GBV guitarist Doug Gillard, Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department: “Do Something Real.” 

AR-BunECarlosCover225.jpgAnd while it is most decidedly not a GBV tune in actuality — Bun E Carlos is playing drums with some of his local band mates — the song sounds like a GBV track from the more well produced late 90s period when the group was on Matador Records and TVT Records.

Greetings From Bunezuela is, after all, a collection of cover tunes Bun E. Carlos likes, played with musicians he likes.

So… thus, effectively this new version of “Do Something Real” is a genuine cover version, even if the original lead singer and song writer is on it …  In many ways, it is a better version than the original, although some GBV fans would gleefully argue this.  It is a better produced, bigger sounding version of the song….. how ’bout we leave it at that?

It is what it is, as they say…

Also for the GBV fans, Greetings From Bunezuela includes a nice interpretation of the Bee Gees classic 60s tune “Idea,” sung by Pollard. 

The excellent cover of Paul Revere & The Raiders’ “Him or Me” is sung by the brothers Hanson (yes, as in 1990s teen sensations, who — by the way — I’ve been hearing good things about from friends have followed them over the years… clearly a group I need to revisit/explore).

AR-do over.jpgAs rock CDs go this album sounds fine….  you can turn it up real loud in the car and your ears won’t bleed (well, not much, depending on how loud you play it… your experience may vary … wink wink, nudge nudge). Given the way the album was created  — different musicians, studios — I wouldn’t be at all surprised that if Greetings From Bunezuela was recorded in the digital domain (ie. ProTools). It seems to rock out just fine at 44.1 kHz and 16 bits. 

This isn’t a high resolution Kind of Blue listening experience, kids…. 

But, since Best Buy was offering it for less than $10 (when I bought it), Greetings From Bunezuela makes for a no-brainer purchase for both Cheap Trick and GBV fans alike. 

My only hope is that the Pollard songs get released on singles (as in 45 RPM vinyl) for inclusion in your teenage Guided by Voices/Robert Pollard record collection. 

Speaking of… there are also a bunch of new GBV related releases out there which I’m catching up on bit by bit.  For those of you readers unfamiliar, Robert Pollard — leader of GBV and numerous spin off projects — is arguably one of the most prolific composers on the planet, releasing virtually every musical breath he has uttered. This isn’t a bad thing but it does make getting into his music a bit more daunting.  

AR-GBVcoverartexcerpt225.jpgThis has not been made any easier with the most recent GBV-branded release Please Be Honest. I say “GBV-branded” quite specifically because in many ways this could just as easily be another Pollard solo album — none of the original GBV members are on it, most notably Tobin Sprout whose songs often provided a welcome breath of lighthearted air amidst Pollard’s intensity. 

Ying, Yang.

Please Be Honest came out a few months ago and has grown on me with repeated listens — this isn’t one of those GBV albums that immediately grabs you.  In fact — I will be honest, per the title’s request — I almost blew this one off after my initial listens when I first bought the album.  I didn’t like it on the first spin…

However, in true Pollard fashion, after letting the record sit for a month or so and coming back to it with fresh ears, I’m digging Please Be Honest more now… GBV and Robert Pollard’s songs are like that sometimes… they creep into your head, classic ear worm style…

The first song — “My Zodiac Companion” — is near-classic GBV.  While Pollard’s voice is just off-key enough to be possibly annoying to some, the song quickly melts into an epic GBV-flavored chorus. Sour notes aside, its a great way to begin the record. This album is pretty consistent fidelity wise (not quite LoFi but not quite  HiFi either). As an end to end listen it has plenty of quirky ups, downs to keep the listener engaged — moments of ballsy dissonance followed by bullfighting bravado.  

AR-GBVcoverartexcerpt1225.jpgEven more than average, there is a palpable sense of Who-ness on this album, particularly The Who Sell Out period (circa 1967). “Kid On A Ladder” features a big plucky bass sound echoing The Who’s John Entwistle (and The Move, for that matter). “Glittering Parliaments” reminds me — production wise and somewhat compositionally — of songs like “I Can’t Reach You” and parts of “Rael (1 & 2).  

There are little moments of sound effects interspersed making this feel somewhat concept album-y (Train whistles! Marching bands!). Like The Who Sell Out, there are some nice acoustic moments too (“The Caterpiller Workforce,” “The Quickers Arrive,” “I Think A Telescope”, etc.), albeit done in Pollard’s raw-first-take demo style (as opposed to the lush grandeur of The Who’s “Sunrise” — setting realistic expectations here kids).

And so it goes on Please Be Honest: as with most GBV albums, odd interludes and dramatic vignettes set the stage for moments of grandeur (such as the fine title track which doesn’t appear until the middle of side two!).

Anyhow this is just some of the latest music from the world of Robert Pollard and GBV. 

By the time you read this review hopefully I’ll have picked up Pollard’s most recent solo album (Of Course You Are, which is inexplicably priced much higher than your average GBV album over at Amoeba Records… I’ll have to knuckle down and get it one of these days).  There is also a new side project coming with Cobra Verde-era GBV guitarist Doug Gillard called ESP Ohio slated for October release.  Pollard’s first solo album, Not In My Airforce, is being reissued on vinyl for the first time.

Indeed, GBV fans…. the club is very much still open.

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