Before they disassembled in 2004, Guided By Voices went through two recognizable phases. There was the earlier, late-80’s to late-90’s lo-fi period for which they are largely remembered, and the more polished sound that followed. On their newest record, Let’s Go Eat the Factory, they attempt to rediscover the sound that made them famous, but find that some of that magic has been lost.
The main problem stems from the hurried manner GBV speeds through its songs. There’s little room for a song to grow or develop. This, of course, is nothing new. Many of their great songs from the early to mid-90’s are short and sweet. Robert Pollard doesn’t like to spend too much time with any one idea. When a majority of the songs are very good or great, as they are on Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes, this is fine and the albums become a collection of fantastic hooks and tidbits. However, when an album contains upwards of twenty songs and most of those songs fail to impress, there’s going to be a massive problem.
Factory has a number of incredible songs that can stand up to anything the group has ever done, from 1987’s “Hank’s Little Fingers” (Devil Between My Toes) to 2001’s “Fair Touching” (Isolation Drills). “Doughnut for a Snowman” is as sweet as the Krispy Kremes it references in its first verse. “Old Bones”’ obvious “Auld Lang Syne” inspiration makes its heavy distortion and measured pace that much more haunting. The second half of “Spiderfighter” makes up for the messy and uninteresting first half, by transforming into a gorgeous piano ballad pleading for the listener to “make up [their] mind”.
Unfortunately, making up one’s mind about this album is fairly easy. Much of Factory is just as messy and uninteresting as the first half of “Spiderfighter”, and this causes the album to wholly fall apart. “The Big Hat and Toy Show” is the obvious low point, offering nothing interesting in its uniqueness. And that, perhaps, is the reason Let’s Go Eat the Factory is such a disappointment. There are many songs that attempt to do something different, go in some new direction. The album artwork is even very odd. While experimentation, especially coming from a band this well established, is always welcome, that doesn’t mean it ends up being all that interesting. Guided By Voices already has another 2012 release on the horizon, showing their prolific nature has not waned in their time apart. Let’s hope that this third phase of the band recovers from a weak start, and eventually reminds us why we were so excited for this return in the first place.
Key Tracks: “Doughnut For a Snowman”, “Old Bones”, “The Unsinkable Fats Domino”, “Chocolate Boy”