The first thing to understand about Please Be Honest is that it’s a Guided By Voices record in name only, as Robert Pollard played all the instruments on this album. His explanation for releasing it under the GBV name is that it “felt like a GBV album.” It’s understandable to be a bit suspicious here, as this could just be an excuse for Pollard to release an album under the Guided By Voices moniker and attain more publicity in the process. But after listening to the album, it’s hard not to agree with him. This album has all the elements of old-school GBV.
Please Be Honest is a decidedly lo-fi album, hearkening back to the days of Vampire On Titus, or even the immortal Bee Thousand. Like so many GBV albums, it’s hard not to marvel at the deceptive simplicity of Pollard’s songwriting. Tracks like “Kid On A Ladder” or “Come On Mr. Christian” have the seemingly effortless catchiness of classics like “As We Go Up, We Go Down” or “My Valuable Hunting Knife.” It’s nice to know that nearly two decades after his most famous work, Pollard still seems capable of crafting catchy songs in his sleep.
That said, this record is certainly not afraid to get avant-garde and experimental. Consider the two insect-themed tracks, “The Grasshopper Eater” and “The Caterpillar Workforce.” Each track has an atmospheric quality to it; despite the lo-fi aesthetic, Pollard creates a vibe where you feel like you’re a grasshopper fighting for your life, or a caterpillar working at a construction site. It’s all gloriously weird, and it’s another thing that Pollard has done brilliantly throughout his career.
The strongest track here is easily “The Quickers Arrive,” which takes the foreboding atmosphere to an even higher level. We don’t quite know who “the quickers” are, the song creates a vibe of impending fear, and it feels as though the quickers are not literal monsters, but our own fears and anxieties. With this, we see where the title Please Be Honest comes from. While some of Pollard’s usual humor and ridiculousness is present, it does feel more direct and heartfelt than other post-comeback GBV albums with fun-but-nonsensical titles like Let’s Go Eat The Factory or English Little League. Pollard has kept his humor intact, while adding an element of honesty and emotion.
With Pollard releasing so much material, both solo and under the Guided By Voices name—in this case a combination of both—it can be hard to really care about any of his new material. At times, Pollard’s output, while impressive, is too abundant for its own good, making all of it seem less essential. That said, Please Be Honest warrants a listen even for non-GBV fanatics. It’s an album full of both humor, and the honesty its title would promise. While Please Be Honest can’t quite rank with the best of Guided By Voice’s output, it’s a solid, rewarding record that more than lives up to the band’s namesake.