24 year ago today, Guided By Voices released Alien Lanes. A salty salute to MAGNET’s pick for the best album of 1995.
Here’s our review of Alien Lanes from issue #17:
Considering how Dayton’s Guided By Voices has gone from a little-known indie cult favorite to the latest next big thing in the alternarock world in the past year, it’s no wonder that the band continues to promote rank amateurism as a career move. With Alien Lanes, the avatars of lo-fi grandiosity pump out 28 more examples of what is now becoming, no matter how enjoyable, somewhat of a formula: short, tuneful songs (sometimes only veritable snippets) that are almost always wackily titled—”Pimple Zoo,” “Big Chief Chinese Restaurant,” “My Valuable Hunting Knife”—with pseudo-psychedelic lyrics; the tunes are amazing products of an incredible melodic sense crossed with a love of ’60s British Invasion pop and art-pomp arena rock. Alien Lanes, GBV’s 10th LP to go along with zillions of EPs and singles over a nine-year career, isn’t so much a new album as a sequel; call it Bee Thousand And One or Son Of Vampire On Titus. Which isn’t to say that Alien Lanes isn’t wonderful, because it is.
Recorded, as usual, on four- and eight-track at the band’s digs, the cuts here blur together with no gaps and are further proof that GBV is incapable of writing an unremarkable melody. Just about every one of these songs creeps into the brain at all hours of the day; among others, the driving “Motor Away” is a soaring anthem, and “Blimps Go 90” displays an unusual sweetness. Alien Lanes is also verification that frontman Robert Pollard is either a true, albeit eccentric, genius or a simply a flaming nutjob. Big surprise, wacked-out lyrics are all over Alien Lanes. Two examples: “This is called the coming of age/Riding into town with the giggling faggots” (“Hit”); “Send in striped white jets/In through stained-glass ceilings” (“Striped White Jets”). Even his missteps are entertaining, though, and while hearing anyone else attempt a shaky falsetto on the almost-pretentious “Always Crush Me” would likely bring guffaws, with Pollard you just end up stupidly singing along. Genius, loon or mystical union of both, Pollard’s consistent songsmithery and charisma are joys to behold.
It may be a minority opinion, but I’d still like to see GBV—at least on one outing, to see what would result—dump the lo-fi shtick, clean up the sound, cut the song list down to about 15 and extend a few of them. A minor quibble, to be sure, and it’s downright rare that the only real criticism of a record is that you wish the songs kept on going. Rare, too, in today’s musical climate is the feeling GBV’s tunes usually bring: belief in the power of rock ‘n’ roll to be uplifting, or at the very least deliver some happiness. The members of Guided By Voices sound like they’re overjoyed and honored to be making the music they make, and it’s contagious. Here’s to the next sequel.