Spy magazine once appropriated the term "refusenik" to describe entertainers who take themselves so seriously that they cease to entertain, and for a while, it looked like Built To Spill frontman Doug Martsch was going to become a refusenik first-class. After a string of bright, inventive Built To Spill records—peaking with 1997's cosmic Perfect From Now On and 1999's punchy Keep It Like A Secret—Martsch was frequently quoted in interviews as doubting his ability and desire to be a generation's alt-rock guitar god. His work with the band and as a solo artist turned turgid, with fewer epic solos and more dead-end experiments. There was even talk that he was planning on abandoning rock for reggae.
Instead, Martsch and Built To Spill have come back stronger than ever on You In Reverse, the band's first album in five years. This is a real, classic rock 'n' roll record, with powerhouse production backing a set of songs that actively engage. The first two alone are pantheon-ready. The eight-and-a-half minute pounder "Goin' Against Your Mind" and the moody, R.E.M./Smiths-y "Traces" both sound full and vibrant, with multiple melodic lines and layered guitars that bounce in and around the rhythm. They announce that Martsch is ready to resume playing to his strengths: catchy, sprawling songs that frame his instrumental pyrotechnics.
Martsch's best solos come in the midsection of You In Reverse, with the cobra sting and Neil Young crunch of "Wherever You Go" and the Meat Puppets riffery and proggy spirals of "Conventional Wisdom." Then Built To Spill concludes with "The Wait," a straight-up valedictory song in waltz time, with a relaxed melody and space-jam coda that ends with the sound of a feedback loop. Even as the album fades, Martsch's guitar has the last word.