Has Robert Pollard been reading his reviews lately? The back cover of 2009's Elephant Jokes, the fifth album Pollard released that year, features the blurb "Another big batch of Robert Pollard songs, a new nadir in patience and delicacy," suggesting he's become aware of the not-uncommon complaint that he's more interested in quantity than quality. But truth to tell, Pollard's joke has been attached to the wrong record: Elephant Jokes sounds more like a Guided by Voices album than anything Pollard has done in quite a while, which is to say the tunes are short, energetic, and hooky as all get-out and he dives into them with a full head of steam. The album was cut using Pollard's now standard working method -- Bob singing and playing guitar; Todd Tobias recording, producing, and handling the rest of the instruments -- but the results suggest Pollard put a bit more thought into his guitar playing, with a larger portion of joyously aggressive slop making its way into the final mix than listeners have come to expect, and though Elephant Jokes still doesn't perfectly replicate the sound of the members of a full band bouncing ideas off one another in the studio, it comes much closer than most of his post-GbV work. And as for the songs, Elephant Jokes is just consistent enough that perhaps Pollard actually threw away a few less than worthwhile tunes for a change; the wordplay is thoroughly cryptic, as usual, but there's actually some sort of point to "Things Have Changed (Down in Mexico City)" and "Hippsville (Where the Frisbees Fly Forever)," and the primitivism of "Jimmy" and "Symbols and Heads" is enough to make you think the man has rediscovered his four-track cassette machine, and likes it. Sure, Elephant Jokes is another big batch of Robert Pollard songs, but it harks back to a time when most smart pop fans could hardly ask for anything more.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming