The new Guided by Voices album is the best thing the band has recorded since the last album by the legendary Dayton, Ohio, rockers. That’s not meant facetiously: the last thing Guided by Voices did was the rapturously received Let’s Go Eat the Factory, and Class Clown Spots a UFO ups the ante raised by that stellar effort, both in terms of recording fidelity (boring!) and songcraft (not boring!) One could argue there’s more depth and variety here than on Alien Lanes, that there are better songs here than on Bee Thousand, but that’s an argument no one’s ever going to win, at least definitively. And this album is a win, by any definition.
Class Clown is classic GBV, starting with the head-body-head combination of “He Rises (Our Union Bellboy),” “Blue Babbleship Bay,” and “Forever Until It Breaks” before finishing you off with the title track, a ridiculously catchy, melodically complex, shot-through-with-melancholia song that serves as a sadder and wiser riposte to XTC’s “Making Plans for Nigel” as performed by The Hollies.
And that’s just the first four songs of a 21-track album clocking in at just under 40 minutes. We’ve yet to get to “Keep It in Motion,” a propulsive, drum-machine-driven pop song which features acoustic guitars, strings, and Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout singing together in a way not heard since “14 Cheerleader Coldfront” on 1992’s Propeller. Possibly. Nor have we discussed galvanic rocker “Jon the Croc,” a clear single candidate, or “Chain to the Moon,” one of the saddest and (why not?) prettiest songs Pollard has ever written.
In between, you get wah-wah guitar solos, a wide range of unusual recording techniques of varying fidelity and a generous helping of Alien Lanes-style snippets. In fact, the sequencing of Class Clown hearkens back to that landmark LP—as on Alien Lanes, songs bleed into each other, fade-outs segue into fade-ins, short bursts of melodic rock (“Billy Wire,” “Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head”) jut against somber chamber pop (“They and Them,” “Starfire”). The last song, the anthemic “No Transmission,” if played at the proper volume, will in fact blow your mind (and your windows).
Class Clown Spots a UFO arrives in June, and we might as well tell you the band is about to finish their third record since reuniting, because you’ll find out sooner or later. Bears for Lunch is due in late November. But for now, enjoy the best thing since the last thing and until the next thing after that.