Following a 2004 breakup, Ohio lo-fi gods Guided by Voices re-formed to release January 2012's Let's Go Eat the Factory. The (no exaggeration) 13 Bob Pollard solo records and countless side-project recordings that came out during that eight-year hiatus might have weakened the impact of an in-name-only Guided by Voices reunion, but not only did the band return in a "Bob Pollard and some other dudes" form of GBV, but as their classic 1993-1996 lineup featuring co-songwriter Tobin Sprout and longtime collaborator Greg Demos. Not even six months following the return to form of that album comes Class Clown Spots a UFO, another 21-song collection of the kind of slapdash '60s-influenced two-minute pop songs the band was spitting out in its heyday. Time has been very kind in compressing the brilliance of the classic lineup's classic albums, and it's sometimes hard to remember that listening to the updated version. In essence, almost nothing has changed from the off-the-cuff magic of Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand. Like those albums, Class Clown Spots a UFO has occasional breakthrough bursts of pop perfection, some aimless rockers, some useless snippets, and some bizarre drunken sci-fi/mythically geared tunes that are just kinda there. The bright moments are exceptional, as usual. The bouncy horn section and glammy snare rolls of the title track and the rolling melancholy of infectious single "Keep It in Motion" sound inspired and considered, especially for GBV's infamously casual style. Tobin Sprout's contributions to the band were one of its most missed aspects after the classic lineup initially disbanded, and his jangly, wistful tunes here are among the album's best. Much like the band's faded masterpieces from the mid-'90s, for every startlingly strong song there is at least one moment of mediocrity or downright annoyance. "Be Impeccable" sounds deflated and cloying; the 51-second "Lost in Space" sounds sniveling, soaked in corny keyboard tones. Even when aiming for the heights of the Who, one of their longest-running influences, GBV misstep with sloppy bumblers like "Blue Babbleships Bay" before striking gold with a meaty anthem like "Jon the Croc." The album's spottiness becomes just another part of the Guided by Voices experience, and in a strange way it eventually works as a positive attribute. Waiting through a solid minute of nonsense like "Worm w/ 7 Broken Hearts" makes a passably pleasant song like "Starfire" seem much brighter when it finally arrives. The GBV camp thinks in the framework of the bigger picture, and Class Clown is no exception. Fans of the band are waiting for an album that matches the genius of those classic albums, but really, it might just take some time becoming familiar with these new songs to see that the genius of the band is ongoing. Comparing the new stuff to time-tested '90s records begs us to remember exactly how many times we had to hear "Kicker of Elves" and "Pimple Zoo" before they sounded like necessary parts of perfect albums.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas