By Jason Shoff
Robert Pollard is one prolific motherfucker.
Actually, for a musician like him, the term “prolific” is actually a major understatement. With a catalog consisting of forty-three albums, including twenty-one fronting legendary lo-fi indie rockers Guided by Voices, and countless EPs, singles and compilations (and let’s not even get into all of his different side projects), it’s enough material to even make a guy like Ryan Adams go “Hey, slow your roll a bit.” So it should really come as no surprise that King Heavy Metal is his third release since GBV suddenly broke up in September of last year, as well as his second with “self-described ‘supergroup’” Ricked Wicky (no line-up information was included in the press material I got, and I couldn’t find it online, either. So I’m just going to take Pollard at his word on this one).
So what do they sound like? Well honestly, it would be incredibly hard to tell them apart from Pollard’s previous outfit based on one listen to the album’s lead-off track, “Jargon of Clones.” A two-minute blast of vintage 60s British Invasion rock, it’s pretty much everything Pollard fans have come to know and love about his songwriting since he first appeared on the indie music radar more than two decades ago. But then things get real weird, real fast with “Come Into My Wig Shop.” It sounds like someone’s randomly switching the radio dials in your car for no apparent reason: it goes from an X-Files theme-like beginning to trip hop to swirling psychedelia to Pollard doing his best Scott Weiland-singing-into-a-microphone impression, all in under three minutes.
The handful of tracks that follow are similarly very un-GBV like. Pollard’s Stone Temple Pilots-esque vocals continue with “Ogling Blarest,” which sounds like it could be a Purple outtake. “Too Strong for No One to See” is an acoustic power ballad in the vein of “Behind Blue Eyes,” but without the roaring climax of that classic. And then there’s “Time Has Been My Picture,” in which Ricked Wicky try their hand at epic ‘70s stadium rock, only to come up with a five-minute-plus directionless dirge of a tune that meanders and plods so much that it feels much longer than it actually is.
Thankfully the band slips back into more of their comfort zone at the halfway mark. In fact, the second half sounds like an entirely different record, sounding as if the band felt they’ve done enough experimenting for one album and are now reading to bring the ship back into safer harbors. First single “Tomfoole Terrific” is an infectious Slade-esque glam rocker, while “Weekend Worrier” is essentially the band’s re-write of "Ziggy Stardust.” The second half also features what’s by far the most instantly catchy song on the entire album, “I’ll Let You In,” in which Pollard once again lets his unabashed love of The Who (and in this case, the album A Quick One) shine through. It all wraps up nicely with “Map and Key,” another tune that goes over the five-minute mark but is much more successful than “Picture.” It has the feel of a Broadway closing number, or a grand finale song in the vein of “Love Reign O’er Me.”
For the most part, Robert Pollard’s albums have always been about separating the wheat from the chaff, digging through the filler in order to find the true gems, which, when you’re dealing with someone who records and releases practically every idea he comes up with, shouldn’t come as a surprise. But while this album actually has about ten tracks less than the average Pollard release, finding the quality songs actually feels like a harder chore than usual on King Heavy Metal, as the highs aren’t as euphoric as his classics and the lows are among the worst songs he’s committed to record. Having said that, there are still some enjoyable songs on here that hardcore fans will surely put on Spotify playlists or their next Guided By Voices mix (“I’ll Let You In” and “Jargon of Clones,” especially). But for casual listeners, or for those who want to listen to a Pollard/GBV album, King Heavy Metal is one that most will rarely come back to.