Guided By Voices: Motivational Jumpsuit [Album Review]

gbv-motivational-jumpsuite Guided By Voices
Motivational Jumpsuit
Guided By Voices Inc. [2014]


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Fire Note Says: GBV hit a home run with their strongest “classic lineup reunion” album yet!

Album Review: When Guided By Voices re-formed in 2011, no one knew how long it would last or how any new albums would stack up with their previous work. But the band was up to the challenge—did we really think they weren’t?—and delivered four stellar albums in a little over a year. Now they’re back after nearly a year of silence with Motivational Jumpsuit, their first album of 2014. It’s not just the newest Guided By Voices album; it’s their best album since the reunion and one of the band’s best albums period.

What strikes you on the first few listens to Motivational Jumpsuit is the hooks—they’re everywhere. The band hasn’t produced an album this consistently catchy and tuneful since at least Isolation Drills, and at its best the record recalls the effortless melodies of Alien Lanes. The impeccable sequencing of that album is also evoked here, with each song perfectly placed in relation to one another. “The Littlest League Possible” swings for the fences right out of the gate, its final chord melting away into the acoustic strum of “Until Next Time,” which opens with the unforgettable line: “I’m off to work again / There goes Mario Andretti / She’s a real believer / In getting there first every time.” Before that track has time to fade out, “Writer’s Bloc (Psycho All The Time)” fades in, a relentless guitar riff propelling the song forward and lyrics playfully winking at the year-long absence—Pollard belts out, “the last recording nearly killed me!” The groovy fuzz of “Child Activist” follows, lo-fi production giving a nod to the band’s early-90s peak.

But when the first thundering chord of “Planet Score” crashes through the speakers, the magnitude of Motivational Jumpsuit becomes clear. The track’s ascending chord progression, moody melody, and muscular production recall tracks like “Tractor Rape Chain” and “Game of Pricks;” it’s not the first classic track to come out of the reunion, but it’s the first to come so close to the impact of the band’s glory days. And it’s just the first one here. “Save the Company” emerges a couple tracks later, building from a single electric guitar to a majestic tour de force, its slow but steady cadence calling to mind some of the band’s statelier moments (“Don’t Stop Now,” “The Official Ironmen Rally Song,” etc.). “Vote For Me Dummy” is another stunner, perfectly setting up the album’s final quarter with its chiming lead lines, chugging rhythm section and engaging vocal melody.

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The band’s other songwriter is no slouch either; Tobin Sprout gets five tracks on Motivational Jumpsuit, and his tracks are nearly as strong as Pollard’s. There’s the jangly pop of “Record Level Love” and “Calling up Washington,” the trippy psychedelia of “Jupiter Spin,” and two of his strongest reunion-era contributions to date, the melancholy “Shine (Tomahawk Breath)” and the dynamic quiet/loud contrast of “Some Things Are Big (Some Things Are Small).” The album ends with a one-two Pollard punch: “Evangeline Dandelion,” a pretty acoustic number, ends in a burst of enthusiastic applause (a callback to the opening applause of 1992’s Propeller, no doubt) that leads into the rollicking closer “Alex and the Omegas,” a gritty rocker that should be effective on stage when the band heads back out on the road.

There are plenty of other great tracks that I failed to mention (“Difficult Outburst and Breakthrough,” “Zero Elasticity” and “Bulletin Borders” are particularly good), but what should be apparent by now is that the success of the “classic lineup reunion” was no fluke. Robert Pollard is clearly hitting yet another peak as a songwriter, and Motivational Jumpsuit proves that he and his bandmates are still capable of creating timeless records that are in a league of their own. Let’s hope that league continues to get bigger.

Key Tracks: “Planet Score,” “Save the Company,” “Vote for Me Dummy”

Artists With Similar Fire: The Who / Pavement / Bob Mould



Guided By Voices Website
Guided By Voices Facebook
Rockathon Records

-Reviewed by Simon Workman

Simon Workman

Simon Workman

Simon Workman has loved rock n' roll ever since his dad made him Beatles and Beach Boys mix tapes as a kid. These days his musical interests have a wide range, though he's still got a strong connection to the music of the 60s and 70s. He lives in Dayton and is currently working on a PhD in English literature at the University of Cincinnati. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @simonworkman.
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Author: Simon Workman

Simon Workman has loved rock n' roll ever since his dad made him Beatles and Beach Boys mix tapes as a kid. These days his musical interests have a wide range, though he's still got a strong connection to the music of the 60s and 70s. He lives in Dayton and is currently working on a PhD in English literature at the University of Cincinnati. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @simonworkman.

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7 Comments

  1. You got this one right for sure. Amazing album. Love the review Simon!

  2. Although I think The Bears For Lunch was better, Motivational Jumpsuit is just awesome. “Planet Score” is the best Pollard track since “The Best Of Jill Hives.” And the Sprout songs are all perfect. Great album. Now I’m really excited for Cool Planet to be released in May.

  3. The Bears for Lunch was probably my favorite of the last four (although Class Clown Spots a UFO is close), but Motivational Jumpsuit feels just as cohesive and has more of those big power pop hooks. They’re all great though, and I’m also looking forward to Cool Planet and anything else Bob wants to release this year!

  4. I just listened to MJ again and it gets better and better with each spin. “Until Next Time” really got me this time around. And “Vote For Me Dummy.” And “Zero Elasticity.” I’m sticking with this order for the post-reunion albums:

    1) The Bears For Lunch
    2) Motivational Jumpsuit
    3) Let’s Go Eat The Factory
    4) Class Clown Spots A UFO
    5) English Little League

  5. The Fact that GBV is still making rock and it still sounds great is amazing in general.I liked Bears For Lunch,but in my own opinion i really think Motivational Jumpsuit is a very solid GBV album.I like that they have switched up the vocals on some of the songs.Maybe that was part of the deal to come back with the original line up?Who knows?Just glad they are still crankin out the rock and still doin’ it well!

  6. All the above are great comments but we can all agree these albums are the epitome of rock craftsmanship. Also, an accurate and enthusiastic review. What Bob and the boys have been doing for years…making songs that stick with you all day…they’re still at it. In this sad and sometimes depressing world, GBV and Pollard and Sprout songs are a beacon of hope and joy in the dark, even when the songs themselves might be sad. GBV should be HUGE, but I love it they don’t care and live for the song and the sound.

  7. This album is a gem. I have liked the pervious efforts of the “Reunited” GBV but this one just a little more umph too it. I think Bob shows a little more attitude on his songs that may lack on the recent ones( not to say I didn’t like them)

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