After putting Guided by Voices to rest at the end of 2004, Robert Pollard launched his "official" solo career with the epic From a Compound Eye in early 2006; however, the wildly prolific Pollard waited a mere ten months to release a follow-up (which was recorded sometime in 2005), and Normal Happiness finds him working in noticeably more modest circumstances. Like From a Compound Eye, Pollard made Normal Happiness with longtime collaborator Todd Tobias, who produced the album and played nearly all the instruments, ably building the tracks around Pollard's vocals and guitar. However, while Pollard was trying to make the Great Rock Double Album with Compound Eye, Normal Happiness is more in the tradition of his best work with GBV -- sixteen short songs (only one over three minutes, seven under two), with plenty of hooks, lots of guitar and no more fuss than necessary. Tobias' production is far cleaner than the hissy lo-fi of Bee Thousand, but the lean and uncluttered accompaniment here is certainly in the same family, and allows the virtues of Pollard's tunes to show through (though GBV never had this much new wave keyboard work). Pollard does seem to be making a genuine effort to mature as a songwriter with more structurally ambitious songs such as "Gasoline Ragtime" and "Full Sun (Dig the Slowness)," but "Supernatural Car Lover," "Rhoda Rhoda," and "Towers and Landslides" show he hasn't turned his back on the muse that fueled his earlier work, and he can still make guitar-based pop songs with a hard rock core with the best of 'em. In short, to paraphrase Keith Moon, he's still the best Robert Pollard-style songwriter alive today, and Normal Happiness confirms he hasn't lost touch with what he does so well.
Normal Happiness Review
by Mark Deming