It's sometimes difficult to fathom the thought processes of Robert Pollard, but more often than not, it turns out the guy knows what he's doing. More than a few fans and observers were puzzled when Pollard debuted a new edition of Guided by Voices in February 2016, less than 18 months after the ignoble breakup of the "classic lineup" that had been touring and recording since 2010. But a spin of 2017's How Do You Spell Heaven, the second album from the reconstituted band, shows that in terms of chops and imagination, Pollard certainly traded up. This version of GbV can do more than just play Pollard's songs -- they bring a tough but intelligent rock & roll swagger to the music, and seem as comfortable with his glam and prog rock influences as his pop hooks. Doug Gillard's lead guitar work shines on these tracks, especially the stomping instrumental workout "Pearly Gates Smoke Machine" (the tune was written by Gillard as well, with Pollard penning the rest of the set), and Bobby Bare, Jr. lends him impressive support. The rhythm section of Mark Shue on bass and Kevin March on drums is excellent, bringing a muscular snap to the performances as well as an enviable sense of color and shading. And with a band this good behind him, Pollard has stepped up as a vocalist, singing with a vigor and commitment that he hasn't achieved in recent years. As a songwriter, How Do You Spell Heaven finds Pollard in an expansive mood, with more (relatively) grand-scale rock numbers on board than pocket-sized pop tunes. But if Pollard has this good a band at his disposal, why wouldn't he want to make use of their talents? How Do You Spell Heaven is one of the best and smartest rock albums Guided by Voices have given us since Isolation Drills, and this music confirms Pollard is no dummy when it comes to putting together a band.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming