It sometimes appears that Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard has taken it upon himself to ensure that GBV is the best-documented rock band on the face of the Earth. Between the band's busy schedule of studio albums, frequent live discs, copious singles, and numerous archive releases and side projects issued as part of GBV's Fading Captain series, it seems as if every sound the group or its leader emits will make it onto sound-bearing plastic in some form, and in what could be some sort of world's record, Hardcore UFOs: Revelations, Epiphanies and Fast Food in the Western Hemisphere is the second multi-disc box set from Guided By Voices in three years, and none of the 129 tracks that appear here were on 2000's 100-song Suitcase (and none of those had been previously released). In short, this is the sort of release that forces fans to ask the question, "Just how much Guided By Voices do I really need?" Disc one is a useful 32-song "best-of" disc, which cherry picks 77 minutes of prime-quality material from a catalog that has long needed a healthy pruning; this disc, also available separately in a different sequence, is as good an introduction to the band as you're likely to find. Discs two and three offer, respectively, a collection of B-sides and compilation tracks, and a selection of unreleased tunes and demos; in the grand tradition of the Suitcase set, these two discs offer a handful of true gems sitting cheek by jowl with recordings that didn't make the cut for very obvious reasons, once again proving what Robert Pollard needs more than anything is an editor.
Disc four features 31 unreleased live performances from seven years worth of audience-taped gigs, and while the disc certainly has its peaks and valleys, the beery enthusiasm and regular-guy passion for rock that makes GBV's shows so much fun certainly comes across, and this is an enjoyable document of the group's live prowess and goofball charm. Disc five offers the first-ever CD release of GBV's debut EP, Forever Since Breakfast, and heard today it's amusing to hear how much of the group's sonic personality was in place from the start -- and how much the bandmembers wanted to sound like R.E.M. when they were starting out. Rounding out the set is a DVD version of Banks Tarver's documentary about Guided By Voices, 1995's Watch Me Jumpstart, which is at once a sketchy but compelling look at GBV's formative years and, in retrospect, an almost poignant look at these musicians as they ride the cusp of greater recognition (it's especially telling that several say they aren't sure what they would do if the band's new success suddenly went away; two years later, Pollard would be the only one still in the band). The DVD has also been beefed up with additional music videos, live performances, and a new short from Tarver in which Pollard and his brother sort through boxes of Guided By Voices memorabilia. Marvelously, frustratingly, Hardcore UFOs ultimately plays out like a great big Guided By Voices album, with plenty of beautifully life-affirming hard-rocking pop and more than a few aimless and misguided failed experiments, with the proportions at just the point where it's ultimately a matter of taste and patience if you should have this on your shelf. If you're a beginner, get the stand-alone "best-of" disc. If you're an obsessed fan, of course you'll want to have it. Anyone else -- hey, perhaps you could make friends with and borrow it from an obsessed fan.