Like clockwork since 2006, Robert Pollard has been releasing two albums a year under his own name. Even when Guided By Voices reanimated and became a touring concern, his work - be it quality or quantity - didn’t suffer a jot.
Last year, however, a curious and scary thing happened - the clock seemed to break, and there wasn't a Pollard album to be seen. Well, obviously there were the Circus Devils LP, the two Guided By Voices albums and a Teenage Guitar record - but no eponymous outlet for what he considers his more "grown-up" ventures. Was the man hanging up the hat? Was the pressure of touring as Guided By Voices again simply too much to handle? Did he have something up his sleeve? We'll never really know, though the unveiling of his new band Ricked Wicky (self-described as his "most musically adept project" in a decade - harsh!) earlier this year would suggest that he'd been dying to try this.
So what of Faulty Superheroes, the twenty-second full-length album to bear Pollard's name? Well, for a start, it's hardly an afterthought. Anyone wishing to complain that Bob Needs An Editor - a key component of any Pollard review, along with "Bob Drinks A Lot" and "Former Teacher Bob Pollard" - will be disappointed. Recorded with most of the RIcked Wicky lineup - erstwhile GBV (and former Shudder to Think) drummer Kevin March and all-rounder Todd Tobias - this is unquestionably his most concise, composed work in years. It's complex without sacrificing catchiness, fleshed-out without losing spontenaiety. It takes just twelve songs in thirty minutes to demonstrate that Bob is back at his best.
All bases of his four-P's philosophy of rock (pop, punk, psych and prog) are covered, often all at once; songs call to mind R.E.M., Television, The Who and Yes within two and a half minutes. The "positively regal" "Up, Up and Up" - Superheroes' aptly-named single, which sounds like it's on a constant ascent until its fades out/floats away - even channels Yo La Tengo at their most hook-happy. That it's followed by the decidedly earthbound, advice-laden rocker "You Only Need One" (key lyric: "keep your feet on the ground, and be snappy") can surely be no coincidence. The best track here, though, is the brittle mini-epic "Photo Enforced Human Highway", which sprawls its way through storming power chords, a minute-long one-chord psych-kraut chug and a petulantly triumphant arena rock ending. Its lyrics veer from meaningless to profound ("baritone bachelors and falsetto brides / choosing you, the one who rides / living can do nothing but die") in the space of seconds, to the point where the tuned-in listener would simply give in and accept that, somehow, all human experience may well be contained within these three and a half minutes. I've been listening to this record for two months now, and am no closer to knowing what a photo enforced human highway is. All I know is that I should probably learn to drive, just so I can find one and ride it out wherever it leads.
Talking about Robert Pollard's work can often devolve into sports-style statistics, a side-effect which Pollard would probably appreciate; hell, every conceivable nook and cranny is covered on an online almanac known as the GBVDB). To say "this is his best album since 2013" may sound like damning with faint praise, but I can think of few other artists who's released nine albums in that time. If you jumped off the Pollard express because of his overproductive workrate, or haven't got a clue where to start, here's a great place to resume or begin your love affair with the man's work. "Drawing to the end, but closer to the start," he sings on celebratory opener "What a Man", "He's back." Damn right he is. Faulty Superheroes, simply put, is faultless.