Guided By Voices – Half Smiles Of The Decomposed

Guided By VoicesHalf Smiles Of The Decomposed (Matador)

Well, so long and thanks for all the fish. Bob Pollard closes the books with this album on Guided By Voices, and this is either a bitter-sweet farewell or long overdue exit depending on which camp you fall into. If you’re an indie snob purist, you’ll write this album off like every other one since Under The Bushes Under The Stars (or if you’re kind, Mag Earwhig). Slavish fan-boys (like me) will shrilly impose this album on all their long-suffering friends. But to the point: has Uncle Bob and his boys over-stayed their welcome? Well, ahem – maybe.

Like most of GBV’s post-lo-fi days, Half Smiles Of The Decomposed has its ups and downs. Yes, there’s filler; yes, there’s goodness. However, unlike recent albums like Earthquake Glue or Isolation Drills, there doesn’t seem to be any fruitless search for a hit. Their own early critical success has hemmed them into an indie circle-jerk; the mainstream can’t hear them, the critics are still pissed at them for Do The Collapse. Pollard realizes this, I think. Thus the reason for the breakup.

So how’s the album? Like I always say about recent GBV albums (Earthquake Glue is the exception—excellent for anybody): pick it up if you’re a fan. If you’re not, this won’t sway you. And wait for Pollard’s solo ouput. I have a feelng he’s saved some of the best stuff for Act 2.

MP3s available from Matador and

5 thoughts on “Guided By Voices – Half Smiles Of The Decomposed”

  1. Totally disagree. This album is a beautiful, melancholy masterpiece and a fitting end to a brilliant run. Yeah, there’s no “fruitless search for a hit,” but I donnot believe there has ever been one with GBV, other than on “Do The Collapse” and “Isolation Drills,” where the major label TVT was pushing for hits (which is what major labels do). “Everybody Thinks I’m A Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking)” “Girls of Wild Strawberries” “Closets of Henry” and “Huffman Prairie Flying Field” are great Pollard gems. “Window of My World” is a gorgeous powerpop ballad. And “Sleep Over Jack” and “Asia Minor” are quirky, off-kilter songs filled with joy. “Sons of Apollo” and “Asphyxiated Circle” are patented GBV classic Rawk tunes. During the first week or so of listening to this disc I found “Tour Guide of the Winston Churchill Memorial,” “Second Spurt of Growth” and “(S)mothered in Hugs” to be the filler. BUT, now after gliding on this platter with 30 + spins, the latter two tunes have grown on me bigtime. And since “Tour Guide” follows six knockout songs, with “Asia Minor” tucked after, I am forgiving (not that it’s that bad). Sure, I’m a GBV fan(atic), so take my words with a pinch of salt crystals. (I’ve been listening to this album on vinyl with a CD copy in reserve). But I’m also brutally honest and have seen many an artist fall into mediocrity and become boring. Not so with Uncle Bob, who stays true to his vision. Where he may have faltered with “Do The Collapse,” he has otherwise delivered the goods everytime on his “official” GBV releases. He does so once again, and for the last time. Incidentally, Act 2 will commence with “American Superdream Wow” which is culled from songs Bob wrote decades ago…

  2. I’m on the reviewer’s side on this. Like you, R. Wilder, I’m also a huge GBV fan and have been since my high school days. 1/2 Smiles is a big disappointment to me. Granted, it does have it’s good moments (those being the first four songs, Closests of Henry, and Huffman Prairie Flying Field. But to me, that’s where it ends. Window of My World sounds like it belongs in a Disney movie, and Asia Minor might be one of the worst GBV songs I’ve heard.

    Another disappointment were Bob’s vocals on this. At times, he just sounds flat and just really uninspired. The performances alone weren’t that good, and could have been saved by doing maybe a couple extra takes. The “harmonies” at the end of Asphyxiated Circle are enough to make you want to advance the track before the song is over.

    Like I said, I’m a huge GBV fan, and probably one of the most biased. I tried giving this album a chance, as I tried giving Earthquake Glue a chance (which I’m gradually warming up to, even a year after it’s release), but as I see it, it’s about 1/3 good, 1/3 meh, and 1/3 bad.

  3. I agree with R. Wilder. This is, like all GBV albums, another great chapter in one of this generations greatest talents. Unfortunately it’s the final chapter in what us fans lovingly know as Guided By Voices. Fortunately though, Uncle Bob isn’t about to stop churning out the gems: see FICTION MAN (Bob’s brilliant new solo disc). That said, I will also say that it does have moments that may not induce the fist raising, rock-out of a ‘Motor Away’ or a ‘Cutout Witch’ but it does go places where I feel that records like ‘Alien Lanes’ didn’t go. Those records are fantastic but with the last few GBV works, we start to see Bob’s influences and inspirations come to the forefront. There are majestic, dare I say ‘proggy’ moments that suggest Bob has been cranking his beat up copy of Genesis’s Gabriel era ‘Foxtrot’ with it’s epic sweeps. He’s never denied that he has a Prog-spot as well as a british power-pop fixation. It shows on this record. ‘Girls Of Wild Strawberries’ is one of Bob’s high water marks. Like one reviewer said, ‘Window of My World’ sounds like it belongs in a Disney film. Yes, I believe Bob would love that. A 60’s Disney film. Not a bad thing. All in all, a fine record. I’ve been a huge GBV fan for a long time and can honestly say that watching Bob and his trusty troops rock the masses live over the past decade has taken a toll on the poor chap. I think he wants to move on to the next chapter I’m ok with it. He’ll tour. He’ll make more great records like ‘Waved Out’ and ‘Fiction Man’. We’ll have to weed through the gazillion other releases he pumps out on a whim to find the diamonds. It’s worth it. He’s one of the best writers around. Long Live GBV.

  4. I loved Do the Collapse and everything before it and some of the more recent solo albums but not the last coouple of GBV lps. The production is boring. I liked Ric Ocasek because it was more GBV style. anti-fashin stadium rock etc. then they got regular indie rock type production and the younger less funny line-up. bah

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