Album Reviews - Reviews

Guided By Voices – Motivational Jumpsuit


Another year, another Guided By Voices record. You should know the score by now: 20 tracks, few of which break the two minute mark, filled with song fragments, little moments of beauty, and the occasional full-fledged composition. In this regard, the new GBV album is little different from its predecessors, surfing on the comfortable wave they’ve been on since they arrived re-invigorated from the wilderness with the release of Let’s Go Eat The Factory in January 2012.

None of which is to say that it’s in any way a bad record. On the contrary, it’s an album that rarely has time to fall below the standard set by Pollard and co. 20 years ago.  And naturally, with a catalogue as dense as that of GBV, many of the tracks within Motivational Jumpsuit sound as though they could easily have been taken off the tracklist of previous records (or even their inspirations – try listening to ‘Jupiter Spin’ and not hear echoes of a certain Beatles classic). There’s even room for some meta jokes – the riff from ‘Bulletin Borders’ is repeated at a lazier tempo in a song called ‘Writers Bloc’. However, one fact becomes obvious over the course of the record, and it soon turns out to be more of a crutch than a touchstone – there’s very little here that hasn’t been done already on innumerable previous GBV albums.

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What’s very apparent about this album is that the band are trying very hard to evoke the spirit of their classic mid-90’s era (particularly Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes) without capturing the freshness that accompanied those records on first release. One addition to this record that distinguishes it from their earlier output is a number of dirges hanging around the midpoint of the album that only inspire boredom rather than anything else (‘I Am Columbus’ in particular is a dull song fragment that was extended into 3 drawn-out minutes in uncharacteristic GBV fashion). On the shortest album since the reunion of the “classic line-up” at 37 minutes, it’s unfortunate that so much space was awarded to one of the weakest songs on the record, and this tendency will hopefully be dropped in time for Cool Planet, due to be released in the coming months.

Despite all this, as mentioned above, this record still has a few moments of brilliance strewn through the tracklisting. ‘Save The Company’ is an immediately accessible singalong in the vein of ‘Tractor Rape Chain’, while Tobin Sprout’s ‘Record Level Love’ falls into the balladry that characterised English Little League last year. The last stretch of the record has the finest selections of this particular crop; beginning with the lovely ‘Shine’ through to the propulsive (and heavily Who-influenced) ‘Alex and the Omegas’, the run makes up for many of the shortcomings prevalent in earlier tracks. It’s unusual for Pollard to save most of the best songs to the end of the album, but as is usual with GBV records, there are moments of excellence peppered throughout the album.

What’s probably most impressive about the record is the fact that it exists at all – lest we forget, this is the 5th album released by GBV since January 2012. The prolific nature of GBV releases in recent years is well documented, but it has reached even greater heights of productivity than Pollard has ever hit before. Despite this, the album still has the requisite number of great numbers mixed with eccentric experiments; although it may take more than one listen to pick out favourites. One for the long time fans then, although newcomers will still find plenty to enjoy here. Mark Jones