Faulty Superheroes, Robert Pollard’s first solo album since the latest dissolution of Guided By Voices, is yet another fascinating chapter in one of rock ’n’ roll’s strangest trips. After toiling away in relative obscurity in the late ’80s, Pollard led GBV to bigger things in the ’90s, though the band’s prodigious output never brought his goal of mega-stardom. Like Jack Nicholson’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest character, he still gave it hell and emerged with integrity intact, and he split the band in 2004 after an extensive farewell tour. The “classic lineup” reunited in 2010, though Pollard eventually soured on that, too, with the band’s unceremonious final show taking place at a small festival in Toledo, a short drive from its hometown of Dayton.
Faulty Superheroes treads the middle ground between lo-fi and big-budget productions that Pollard found on the likes of GBV’s Universal Truths And Cycles and Half Smiles Of The Decomposed. The hooks are plentiful, as always: Opener “What a Man” sizzles like a Do The Collapse-era power-pop ditty, while the scarred ballad “The Real Wilderness” shares sonic similarities with “I Am A Scientist.” And though it doesn’t achieve the sublime grandeur of that Bee Thousand classic, it is a vignette emblematic of this half-hour set, which feels at times like a condensed trip down the winding stylistic rabbit hole of Pollard’s staggering back catalog.
This is perhaps the most impressive feat of Faulty Superheroes—the fact that Pollard has forged a distinctive sound that ultimately merits comparison mostly to his past work, light years from his early days as an R.E.M.- and Who-infatuated music geek who wore his influences like a badge. Now he’s likely aware that his accomplishments as a songwriter are nearly commensurate with the heroes of his past.
But Pollard is keenly aware that a close eye on the past could impede future achievement, and he tackles that idea head-on with the mid-tempo rush of “You Only Need One.” The song could be read in any number of ways: as a reference to the GBV reunion, perhaps, or to Pollard’s own focused obsession, songwriting. It could also easily be construed by his most fervent fans as an “Our Band Could Be Your Life”-style manifesto. In Pollard’s youth, he’d obsess over albums and artists in a manner that’s now something of an anachronism. But a work the caliber of Faulty Superheroes, when taken in the context of Pollard’s extensive discography, suggests that if you only need one songwriter, he’s willing to be that one, for life. He’ll be your eminently flawed superhero, wizened and wise, and still bristling with the recklessness of youth.