Let me get this straight: we’re supposed to forgive an artist for lackluster efforts merely on the grounds that they release records at an exponential rate? If anything, these artists should be held accountable with even more scrutiny for expecting fans to open their wallets so frequently while running the risk of buying the inevitable dud.
We should start with Robert Pollard.
I’m asking you to let Pollard foot the bill himself for Normal Happiness, a forgettable attempt at guitar pop that shows him going through the motions while providing little to disprove that his best days ended on December 31, 2004. It’s not right that you should have to shell out for output like this that is both creatively sub-par and reeking of safely honing a genre that already has an ample amount of indifference.
Normal Happiness is Pollard’s second effort since disbanding Guided By Voices, and it does nothing to promote their legacy or to enhance his own. By my count, less than half of the record’s 16 tracks rate higher than a Suitcase outtake. The rest only manage to add to Pollard’s post-GBV resume as material that meets a lowered expectation. There’s barely a note out of place, and even fewer melodies that challenge either the listener or the artist himself. Yes, Normal Happiness is the first record where Robert Pollard truly sounds his age.
Recorded with Todd Tobias, the production is a nowhere near his former lo-fi glories which is unfortunate as the additional hiss might have added some nuances and, at the very least, hidden some of the album’s shortcomings. The instrumentation is given an adequate amount of detail for listeners to hear both the lack of passion and the lack of excitement behind it.
The tracks that do manage to make an impact—”Supernatural Car Lover” (mp3), “Serious Bird Woman,” “Towers And Landslides,” and “Rhoda Rhoda”—are, you guessed it, straight out of the GBV playbook, while a few tracks (“Give Up The Grape” and “Gasoline Ragtime”) actually make a half-assed attempt at trying to demonstrate musical diversity before succumbing to the blatant realization that there really wasn’t a tangible inspiration that prompted him to examine different sonic colors in the first place. Or as Pollard puts it in “Gasoline Ragtime:” “Act like we lost it, baby / Just need something to remind us / Just need to find it somehow / That you must grow to get there.” And on several of the tracks, Pollard’s definition of “growth” is to simply add a few synthesizers and call it progression.
Perhaps I’m being overly harsh; there’s nothing on Normal Happiness that stands out as unlistenable or bad. The problem is that it doesn’t stand out at all. And if we’re going to place Pollard on a level where he’s afforded the luxury to release several albums a year based on past accomplishments, then he should return the favor by at least hinting as to why we should care.