Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department

Robert Pollard

1999



Given that Pollard has released over a thousand songs in his lifetime (and written thousands more, if his rarities compilation Suitcase is anything to go by) it’s challenging, not to mention expensive, to listen to all his solo material. However, Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department is infinitely better than his band Guided By Voices‘ Do The Collapse, which was released the same year, perhaps because there was no pressure to deliver.

It also boasts one of Pollard’s best hooks ever in the pulsating Pop Zeus, which is slightly spoiled (or enhanced, depending on your point of view) by the line “Call him Max/Send him a fax/Charge him no tax/Pop Zeus”. And yet never have I heard such nonsense being sung so well: Bob moves from major to minor keys in a manner that can only be described as beautiful, while the anthemic ending made it a staple in GBV’s live performances.

Opener Frequent Weaver Who Burns would have been right at home on Alien Lanes, with the backing vocals clashing with Pollard and yet still working. As for Soul Train College Policeman, it’s a nice song, but Bob, you have to stop picking your lyrics at random from the dictionary, I mean “Baby stays shaking / Laughing and baking / Post-Christmas cupcake hand-grenade,” what’s that all about?

The strangest song of the lot, however, is Port Authority, and that’s not just because it weighs in at – shock horror – over four minutes. A real slow-burner of a song, it starts off with crooning and OK Computer style spacey effects I imagine came from co-writer Doug Gillard, before the stop-start bass and drums take over. It’s here that a Pollard album would normally start to falter slightly, but this one gets better: Same Things manages to cram an impossible amount of hooks in its 1-minute running time, while And I Don’t (So Now I Do) is the single that never was, gathering momentum as Bob tells us “I never had one / I didn’t want one / And I don’t, so now I do” while the bass is more reminiscent of a hip-hop record, turned up to the max.

I could go on and on. Special mention must go to Tight Globes, with its closing guitar solo, while Larger Massachusetts stands out with its haunting guitar riff and plaintive vocals. Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department may not be anywhere near as critically revered as Bee Thousand, but I hope its time will come – it’s too good to be forgotten.





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