Guided By Voices: Motivational Jumpsuit – album review

Guided By Voices – Motivational Jumpsuit (Fire Records)

CD / DL /  LP

Out now


Who’s written more songs in the indie-rock era than any other songwriter? Robert Pollard of course. And here he comes again with another Guided By Voices LP. Long time GBV fan, Willow Colios, places it as another vital record in their distinguished canon.

Immediate. A rare thing for a Guided By Voices LP, but this one has an immediacy that cuts through on the first listen.

Many of their records such as Universal Truths and Cycles seemed to take, to me anyway,  a decade to mature, songs like Everywhere With Helicopter eventually emerging as classics in the GBV oeuvre (largely due to the guitar work of allegedly non-classic line-up guitarists). Motivational Jumpsuit hits harder than the previous four GBV efforts since their 2012 resumption as a recording and touring band; Zero Elasticity, possibly about Vladimir Putin’s excessive use of botox, is a particular exponent of some seriously chunky riffage.

I should briefly mention the album cover too; a child looking at a record sleeve mounted on the wall which is actually the cover of GBV’s 1995 EP Tigerbomb, which included versions of two classic tracks My Valuable Hunting Knife and Game Of Pricks. There’s a slight acknowledgment here of where they’ve come from and in some ways this record does take us back to classic elements of the Guided By Voices sound.

The lyrics “Biggest fish in the smallest pond / In the littlest league possible” on the lead off track are probably good explanations of where GBV sit in the world of music, but they are the fish that keep spawning with their chief writer and singer showing no signs of tiring. No one really phrases lyrics like Robert Pollard and no one, including Bob Dylan, writes like him. It’s the phrasing that gives his work that uniqueness and if there’s a true heir to the prolific songwriting of The Beatles combined with the rock sensibilities of The Who, then it’s Pollard.

On this record his songs are counterbalanced with Tobin Sprout’s more straightforward delivery and simplistic yet still engaging lyrics on tracks such as Some Things Are Big And Some Things Are Small. What makes this another standout in GBV’s already pretty illustrious career though, is that there’s both the great cut and paste of records such as Bee Thousand (now 20 years old!) and the acoustic atmosphere of Under The Bushes Under The Stars on tracks like Bird With No Name and Go Without Packing. It’s raw and true like all GBV records are, containing that Neil Young-like “I didn’t make this record to sell copies, it just fell out of me” essence.

With Pollard we are used to getting multi-layered cryptic imaginings but rarely the direct confessional of a track like Writers Block (psycho all the time) where he sings “It’s cost me tears, sweat, blood, sanity” and “The last recording nearly killed me”. Yeah – stick it to the label Bob! Although he, more than anyone else I can think of, has managed an uber-successful programme of self releasing records (through his limited edition Fading Captain Series, since 1999).

If that track was itself an exercise in getting through writer’s block it clearly worked, as the record is packed with other gems that sound like instant classics; the track Bulletin Borders thuds straight in with distorted guitars and the energy of Bulldog Skin or Pop Zeus (from possibly Pollard’s greatest record, the Doug Gillard collaboration Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department).

Perhaps the highlight though is the reflective track Vote For Me Dummy, with its alternating sardonic and poignant lines and rhythms recalling the heights of classic GBV track Exit Flagger.

All in all, Motivational Jumpsuit is 20 songs in 38 minutes. Now that’s how to make an album, if a song is great but only has 90 seconds of life in it, put those 90 seconds down! (Or less in some cases even less – I challenge you to find any track from GBV or any other band shorter than Hit from Alien Lanes which clocked in at 22 seconds.)

Develop the film of your life right now….Oh and buy this record.


Motivational Jumpsuit is out now on Fire Records, you can buy it from Amazon but you should buy it from Rough Trade , Action Records or straight from the label and not from a faceless, tax-dodging corporation who don’t treat or pay their workers properly.

The 4th Annual Guided By Voices celebration day is on April 12th at Brixton Windmill.

All words by Willow Colios. More writing by Willow on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. You can follow Willow on Twitter @ShootTheSinger.


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