Championed by Beck, adored by The Strokes, ripped off by the likes of The Shins, Weezer and Dandy Warhols, Guided By Voices were the 80s US alt-rockers that probably should have gone on to be as feted and revered as The Pixies and Sonic Youth, but instead stayed home, got proper jobs and recorded genius slices of slacker, DIY, indie pop in their basement at the weekends.
When they finally got some recognition in the mid-90s for underground, beloved classics Bee Thousand (1994) and Alien Lanes (1995) they were all too long in the tooth, half-cut and disbelieving to take their success too seriously. Typically, they responded to Noel Gallagher’s claim that Oasis were going to be bigger than The Beatles by sneering – “Well, we’re going to be fatter than Elvis and drunker than Meatloaf.”
Their reformation in 2010, and the three albums that they hurriedly recorded in 2012, proved that Bob Pollard and the chaps are still as odd, frantic and prolific as ever, and this time out their short attention spans are drawn to delivering jangling bubblegum melodies, grungey no-wave doom and the glam rock of David Bowie. Full of 1, 2 and at a stretch 3-minute blasts of ramshackle, lo-fi, guitar pop, Cool Planet captures the old pals completely at ease with one another, almost frozen in time back to when they were teenagers, just playing to please themselves.
A gang of 50-year-olds thrashing around like drunken delinquents should be as tragic and embarrassing as a night out with David Hasselhoff, but their charm, innocence and knowing sense of ridiculousness saves them. They never had any real dreams of packed stadiums and master plans for world domination anyway. They’re not squeezing their beer guts into lycra and applying the guy-liner for one last shot at glory. They’re not wallowing in nostalgia and grasping at pay days – they’re just cranking it out like they always did. And who can begrudge them that?
They don’t sound like relics either. It’s a messy, slipshod, rabble of an album and at times an in-joke taken too far, but gems emerge that compare to GBV’s finest moments. Opener Authoritarian Zoo stomps out a grizzled garage rock chug, Bad Love Is Easy To Do is a piece of bittersweet, middle-aged self-loathing, Tobin Sprout’s mumbled, stripped back Ticket To Hide a hazy, dream-pop, anti-folk croon and Males of Wormwood Mars sounds as strange, surreal and potent as anything Black Lips, Fat White Family or any of the current crop of bright young art-punks have come up with.
In the grand scheme of things Cool Planet may not rank that highly in the GBV canon of work, but it’s great to hear the cult heroes still sounding as if they’re in their basement, chugging beers, making fart jokes and trying to recreate The White Album on a cassette recorder. Long may the party continue.