Guided by Voices' 'Strut of Kings' Is a Little Wobbly

BY Daniel SylvesterPublished Jun 27, 2024


Like sands in an hourglass, so are the albums of Guided by Voices. While a handful of their 25 albums released since their reformation in 2012 have competed with some of their '90s classics (2016's Please Be Honest, 2019's Zeppelin Over China and 2020's Mirrored Aztec, to be exact), the majority simply come and go without much fanfare. So, after a three-album run in 2023, the Ohio quintet asks us to listen to just 36 minutes of new music in 2024; Strut of Kings.

Described by Robert Pollard as "more focused" than the average Guided by Voices release, their 40th LP somehow arrives wildly not as advertised. While it's true that the thumping, churning opener "Show Me the Castle," the driving "Cavemen Running Naked" and album standout "Timing Voice" — adorned with a wonderful backmasked guitar solo — work because of their tightness and dynamics, the rest of the album comes off languid, ambling and loose. Pretty much anything but focused.

While the average Guided by Voices song sits at just under two minutes, seven of the album's 11 tracks surpass the three- and four-minute marks. This causes Pollard to stretch himself thin, inserting anemic bridges to fill tracks like the otherwise beautiful, string-addled five-minute lullaby "Bit of a Crunch" and the nescient repetition of the tuneless chorus on the otherwise punchy and strong "Serene King." Just as Pollard and company get it right with the two-minute "Dear Onion," relying on the forward momentum of Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr.'s roiling riffs and an unfolding chorus, the follow-up, "This Will Go On," stands in as one of the most phoned-in and sedate numbers from their 500-plus song catalogue.

It's completely understandable for Pollard to see his band's latest LP as hyper-focused because the core of many of these numbers are incredibly strong and tight. In fact, much of the album includes a number of elements Guided by Voices fans look for in a song; windmill guitar playing ("Fictional Environment Dream"), lo-fi coolness ("Olympus Cock in Radiana") and arrangements designed around stings and horns ("Bicycle Garden"). But Strut of Kings requires more than just a first go-through, as much of the album could have benefitted from moving past the "first thought, best thought" rubric. Although it seems crazy to say, this is an actual Guided by Voices album that could have benefitted from an editor.    


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