February 07, 2002

Richard Meltzer, Robert Pollard, Smegma and Antler "The Tropic of Nipples EP"

I've reviewed "singles" on Compact Disc format for quite some time, and now it's time for me to reverse this policy, and review an album on a seven inch single. Though such things as six-songs, one-minute or less singles are rather rare these days, with bands like Guided By Voices, it's par for the course.

Suffice to say, this is a very odd and rather strange little record. It's Bob Pollard, backed with Antler, a band from the 70s, and writer Richard Meltzer, teamed up with 70s prog-rockers Smegma, and though you might be left with the impression that this is a four-way collaboration, think again. What both groups have done, however, is to stagger the tracks and then mix them together into a "cohesive" "whole." The result is a massive, continual "song" cycle, a sonic mess that they've created. When you add to this combination the fact that everything is so incredibly lo-fi, you know you're gonna be a-challenged.

The worst part about The Tropic of Nipples is Richard Meltzer and Smegma. Though his poetry is at least slightly interesting on paper doesn't mean that they'll translate into interesting listening. Add to the fact that it's rather obvious that Meltzer's drunk or stoned. He never sings, but he sure does slur a lot. Smegma's backing isn't really bad or good; it's just there, existing, but barely. Meltzer's poetry isn't for the weak of heart, either; it's rather profane in nature, if not a little contrived. I did like "Kerouac Never Drove, So He Never Drove Alone," though.

Pollard's contributions aren't quite as bad as Meltzers, though they're far from his best. In fact, it's probably because of Meltzer's tracks that make his songs much more palatable. "Presumed" is a great, rocking little number, and on "All For Sex and Better Whiskey," his backing band Antler sound like they're just wanting to break out of their lo-fi restraints and tear up the song. Unfortunately, they don't. "Tykie Love (Text book Memorial Hemingway)" is also a fun little tune, though that's mainly due to the overwhelming backing vocals. Most of his songs are in that kind of speak-sing thing he's been doing on and off for years, so in a way, he's kind of doing spoken word., though he does kind of sound bored on "Ovarian Angel Architect."

One thing that I have to give Pollard credit for is the fact that he's not willing to fall down on a project There comes a time in every young Guided by Voices fan's life when they realize that Mr. Pollard has occasionally borrowed the emperor's new clothes, and it would be easy to dismiss The Tropic of Nipples as one of those instances. While it's true that his lo-fi experimentation isn't for everyone, it's certainly fodder for occasionally interesting listening. Sure, the record fails, but that doesn't mean it's gonna stop Pollard's rock. When an artist can at least make a half-assed attempt at doing something unique, I'm impressed. Maybe I'm missing the point; maybe this was just a chance for Pollard to do something with someone he's admired, and, for that, no amount of criticism in the world is ever gonna blemish the mindset behind the making The Tropic of Nipples.

--Joseph Kyle

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