Robert Pollard, lead singer of Boston Spaceships, has always been a prolific musician. Guided By Voices, his first band, often made albums running to around twenty songs. Since disbanding GBV in 2004, though, Pollard has reached James Brown like levels of output, releasing fourteen solo albums in seven years. In 2007, along with three solo records, he released one record with each of his four side projects. He added a fifth side project in 2008, Boston Spaceships, and in 2011 they are already releasing their fifth record. And, guess what? It’s long. 26 tracks and 75 minutes long. At least GBV had the good grace to keep individual tracks short.
But the length is a good thing. Pollard’s mastery of the two-minute song in his Guided By Voices days always seemed effortless, but not always in a positive sense: some songs felt like they were just chucked out for the sake of it. This sense that Pollard releases music just because he can has only increased over the course of his frankly ridiculous solo career. So the fact that this album is bulky, that it must have taken some time to put together, is immediately reassuring. Perhaps Pollard is actually trying this time?
The strength of the music bears this suspicion out. This is an incredibly ambitious album that runs the gamut of styles. Opening track “Blind 20-20″ does all it can to prepare you for the variety to come with a hard rocking intro, brief verses that threaten to explode into Foo-Fighters like anthems without ever quite getting there, and a hushed acoustic bridge that is interrupted by some soaring, Daltry-esque vocals that take the song to it’s close. All this in 3:03. Most of the rest of the tracks on the album are content with one style, but there are marked shifts between them, from the hazy psychedelia of “Let More Light In The House”, to the innocent poppy tones of “Tabby And Lucy” and the old time rock ‘n roll of brilliant title track “Let It Beard”. Boston Spaceships have not just shoehorned facial hair into a pun on a Beatles album title on this song; the lyrics are a peaceful call to arms, with beardedness embodying a freak-out lifestyle in the Zappa sense: “Let it beard. Let it beard. Let it beard and get all weird… I want to hang out on your island, all you people of the world who know no boundaries.”
It’s little wonder that Boston Spaceships touch on so many styles on this album when they’ve recruited an equally diverse collection of guitarists as collaborators: the usual trio of Pollard, John Moen and Chris Slusarenko are joined on different songs by J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr fame, Colin Newman of Wire, Steve Wynn of Dream Syndicate and Mick Collins of The Dirtbombs. These are all experienced hands, and listening to the album they’ve put together it can be hard to believe that it was recorded in 2011 and not 1975. “Let It Beard”, then, is not just the best named album that Pollard has ever sung on; it is a great one that can sit comfortably beside the best from the era it evokes. Stream it below.