Guided by Voices fans who embraced them as the saviors of lo-fi pop after discovering such four-track-in-a-basement masterpieces as Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes had better learn to live with the fact those days are gone for good -- the high-gloss production of 1999's Do the Collapse made it clear that GBV topkick Robert Pollard wanted his band to compete in rock's big leagues, and Isolation Drills only confirms that notion, sounding even more polished and precise than its precursor. However, if you loved GBV for their songs rather than their sometimes-charming sloppiness, then you'll be glad to hear that Pollard and Company have never used professionalism to better advantage than they do here. While Ric Ocasek's production on Do the Collapse was sympathetic, he clearly favored the pop side of the band's personality at the expense of their muscle (most clearly evidenced by the pseudo-new wave keyboard patches). But with Rob Schnapf behind the controls, Isolation Drills sounds like the real rock album GBV have always wanted to make; Pollard's hooky-but-rollicking melodies pay audible tribute to his great love for mid-'70s rock throughout, while Doug Gillard and Nate Farley's guitars finally crunch as much as they chime, making the band's rock moves as credible as their pop gestures ("Glad Girls" and "Chasing Heather Crazy" even finding them managing both at the same time, to superb effect). And Guided by Voices has never made an album this consistently strong from start to finish; with the possible exception of "Frostman" (which appears to have been processed to sound like it was recorded on four track), every song here matters, with Pollard's vocals at the top of their form (it helps that most of his lyrics actually make sense for a change -- sounds like Bob's been having relationship problems again) and the band sounds tight, forceful, and emphatic throughout. God knows if the indie rock audience will ever forgive him for such obvious craft, but the side of Pollard's personality that thought touring with Cheap Trick was a great idea finally gets the album he's been waiting for with Isolation Drills.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming