by Jimmy Draper
Guided By Voices
Universal Truths and Cycles
Last Call for Vitriol
As tempting as it is to point fingers, it’s unfair and oversimplified to pin the proliferation of indie rock’s boy-clique culture on Guided By Voices.
Just because Robert Pollard and his friends didn’t create the straight white world they inhabit, however, doesn’t mean they aren’t torchbearers. And anyone who’s seen ’em in concert has witnessed them gleefully catering to mobs of middle-aged men air-guitaring and thrusting their beer-clenched fists in the air like they just don’t care. You may not immediately guess it listening to the latest GBV album, but this is a boys’ club as Neanderthal as anything this side of Limp Bizkit.
What you probably will guess after hearing Universal Truths and Cycles, however, is that Dayton’s lowest-fi guys have gone through every gimmick, trick and hook in the book. Maddeningly predictable, GBV keep spitting out album after album of the same half-finished song fragments, self-consciously quirky titles, and choruses that split the difference between Beatles homages and Cheap Trick rips — not that the band or its followers care. Universal Truths is more of the same, but — at least if the near unanimous (male) critical praise of the album is an indication — apparently that’s the sorta shit all those indie boys are still bonding over these days.
Superdrag still is just that, and on its fourth album the Knoxville lads have convinced Pollard to lend vocals: “It was really a thrill for us,” the band gushes. “Naturally we’re all big fans of GBV.” Of course they are — what self-respecting alt-rock dude isn’t, man? But on the impressive Last Call for Vitriol, Superdrag churns out the sorta impassioned, almost countrified power pop that GBV keeps shooting blanks at. It’s not the most innovative sound around, but unlike Pollard and his pals, at least Superdrag has gotten smarter, tighter and better through the years. The group is willing to grow instead of just giving the boys at the bar another reason to down another round.
It’s the difference between a band content to pander to its audience, and a band intent on engaging them.
E-mail Jimmy Draper at firstname.lastname@example.org.