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Robert Pollard - Elephant Jokes

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Artist: Robert Pollard

Album: Elephant Jokes

Label: Guided by Voices Industries

Review date: Aug. 10, 2009

Besides the specifics of Elephant Jokes – name, recording minutia, cast of characters – there is nothing that essentially differentiates it from any other album recorded under any of Robert Pollard’s recent monikers. For a yellow dog devotee, this probably isn’t a problem. But for everyone else, it’s really boring, and over the last few years – really since the demise of Guided by Voices – Pollard has quickly been confining himself to the ghetto of pleasing the fanatics, trying to satisfy those that love him uncritically while everyone else who merely likes, or enjoys, or gets something out of his works gets diminishing returns. The sheer volume of releases is itself a problem. Few people have either the money or time or intellect to take in his entire output. It’s fatiguing just thinking about it, and the question Pollard really should start asking himself is ‘Who am I making music for?’

Now, artists do not need to reinvent themselves at every turn. Pollard doesn’t have to start borrowing from Eastern Europe or Africa to stay current. But each album that’s pretty much the same as the last, released within weeks or months of each other, doesn’t give the audience much room to recharge, to feel like a new album is actually needed. It takes on the pallor of routine. The daily news, morning ablutions, another Pollard album. Ho-hum. It doesn’t have to be an event. Fanfare isn’t necessary, but an album has to mean something. Just another to add to an infinite pattern leaves Pollard on a continually level ground. It dilutes his aesthetic.

The thing is, this isn’t a bad album. But it is so full of mediocre songs – as are most of the albums since the end of GBV – that one has to ask why he just didn’t save up all the great ones and make one really excellent album. It’s baffling, really. Few artists are genius enough that everything they makes deserves to be packaged for public consumption, and while Pollard certainly is a good songwriter, he’s not a genius, and he’s certainly not a good editor. He’s either a narcissist or he’s stuck in his head or he’s just not paying attention because otherwise, this deluge makes little sense.

All this works to make his music academic. Scholars publish papers because university culture says to get tenure, one has to have a deep body of work. That doesn’t mean the world needs another paper on Plato or Shakespeare, but the academic machine better keep churning them out anyway. Elephant Jokes is just another paper on Aristotle’s Metaphysics: maybe there’s an interesting insight, but it’s buried under so much tedium that it gets lost.

By Andrew Beckerman

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