Songwriters who are lucky enough to come up with 10 great melodies in their lifetime must hate Robert Pollard, the 38-year-old former fourth-grade teacher who, like the porno actor Ron Jeremy, does effortlessly what the rest of his brethren pursue to the point of frustration. Guided by the same voices that spurred strings of magical notes from the Mersey Beat poets of the ’60s as well as the staccato insurgence of punk in the 70s, the prolific Pollard and his band have been tossing out colorful hooks since 1986 with the frequency and precision of fly-fishermen.
Under the Bushes is GBV’s 24th fresh-from-the-basement release. The band has endured the low-fi tag because its records sound like they’re being played on a turntable with a fuzz-covered needle. But more important than the raw sound quality is the accessibility and spontaneity that four-track recording affords GBV. Stunning tracks like “Cut-Out Witch,” “Underwater Explosions” and “Bright Paper Were-wolves” sound as if they were recorded while the passion was still flowing and scribbled notebook paper was still lying on the floor of the rehearsal space. The band has actually graduated to a 24-track studio, but Pollard’s voice still clings like a shy child, and Tobin Sprout still sounds like he strings his guitar with screen-door wire.
With lyrics that sound cut and pasted from a book by the Brothers Grimm, Pollard’s two-minute tunes aren’t fragments so much as full compositions that say plenty in a short period of time. On “Big Boring Wedding,” he sings, “Pass the word: The chicks are back,” in a ’70s art-rock voice that brings to mind Pink Floyd and the Who’s Quadrophenia, and the song perfectly conveys the vapidness of the scene that Pollard is surveying. On “Look at Them,” the choppy power riffs and Pollard’s flushed, vein-bulging delivery can’t conceal a melody so strong you can lean against it.
Under the Bushes searches for something new in the pop-rock ruins and finds that the quest is the thing. “I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know,” Pollard sings above a gorgeous acoustic guitar on “Acorns and Orioles.” But one hopes he’ll keep trying.