2016 Rock Round-Up: Wire, Guided by Voices, John Doe

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Wire: Noctural Koreans Didn’t have high hopes for this one: EPs, on in this case, “mini-LP”’s that follow hot on the heels of a proper album release tend to be just a collection of leftovers that usually aren’t worth talking about, especially if the proper album wasn’t much to shout about in the first place. And I say this considering Colin Newman’s assurance that these songs are a distinct set, distinguished by studio trickery (compared to the rawer self-titled). But the ever-reliant Tom Breihan gave this the honour of being Album of the Week even though he acknowledges it was a slow week and he might’ve given it to A$AP Ferg’s Always Strive and Prosper had he been given a “proper promo” (also released that day: Andy Stott’s Too Many Voices).

But this is flawed work that’s thankfully only 26 minutes long. And while I’ll maintain that 2010s-Wire is much better than 2010s-Fall as far as classic and still active post-punk outfits go, only “Internal Exile” really delivers Newman’s promise: the waltz-timed number is bolstered by lap steel guitars, trumpets and UFO-like synths. Meanwhile, stuff like the title track, “Dead Weight” and “Pilgrim Trade” are the sort of mid-tempo post-punk rockers that they’ve been churning out reliably for a while now (YMMV), while “Forward Position” starts as a nice drum-less drift but maintains that draft for 5 minutes. “Numbered”’s staccato melody is stilted and isn’t really worth it – meta or not – until the synth coda, which is more colorful than the rest of the record, and “Fishes Bones” has bassist Graham Lewis on lead vocals doing a boring spoken word piece over what sounds like a good enough instrumental that could have been leveraged for something else.

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Guided by Voices: Please Be Honest Not bad, and I was expecting something much worse given the absence of Tobin Sprout which makes this seem like a Robert Pollard solo or off-shoot project masquerading as a proper Guided by Voices album (I was ready to throw a snappy “power in numbers; power pop by numbers” quip and move on with my life). But not only is this easier to take in than previous Guided by Voices releases at 15 tracks clocking in at just over half-an-hour, there’s three good songs: “My Zodiac Companion”, which has some orchestrated and arena rock-ready choruses; “I Think a Telescope”, which has the album’s best tune, over layered acoustic guitar fragments; and “Eye Shop Heaven,” which reminds me of the Byrds’ cover of “Nothing Was Delivered,” that is, somewhat plodding verses (thanks to those drums) and really exciting choruses (replete with backing vocals). And others get by with a solid hook (ie. the endearing way the title’s words are sung on the title track) or interesting sonics (ie. the drums on “The Grasshopper Eaters,” which has the muscular-skeletal chug that helps you get past its runtime or the lame-sounding synth). Only three aren’t worth saving: “Sad Baby Eyes,” which is garbage; the drum machine of “Unfinished Business” reminds me of Jesus and the Mary Chain’s Automatic, which isn’t something anyone ever needs reminding of; and “Defeatists’ Lament” is a re-write of “I Think a Telescope” but with a piano.

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John Doe: The Westerner (Punk) rockers turning to (alt-)country in their old age isn’t anything new; neither is this record. John Doe was always the best singer when he wasn’t trying to carry a tune; otherwise, he was merely competent (which makes the ending of “Rising Sun” really hard to swallow). And that’s something that was hidden in his tenure as part of X by the backing vocals from Exene Cervenka, who, coincidentally or not, had the exact same qualities and lack thereof. (Speaking of, “Alone in Arizona” is originally hers.) Here, the most we get are little moments of nostalgia for X’s glory days: the Ray Manzarek-like keyboard solo that closes “Get On Board”; girl-boy vocals (including some by Blondie’s Debbie Harry) throughout; the first thing that popped in my mind when the cowbell appeared on “Drink of Water” was “Sex and Dying in High Society.” The rest are forgettable to cloying (ie. the piano on “A Little Help” that tells you how to feel, as if the lyrics weren’t already outlining that in sharpie).

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3 responses to “2016 Rock Round-Up: Wire, Guided by Voices, John Doe

  1. Hooray for GBV! I got this, but haven’t played it yet. I wasn’t gonna read your write-up until I heard the album, but then I caved and read it anyway. 🙂 Thanks for the info, I’m greatly looking forward to getting into it!

  2. Pingback: Wire – Silver/Lead | Free City Sounds·

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