Guided by Voices

Sweating the Plague

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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming

Thirty-four years after their first lineup came together, Guided by Voices are once again a band making albums to look forward to -- guitar-heavy exercises in proggy-pop goodness that are smart and satisfying, ranking with the best recorded work of their career. And they're not repeating themselves, either. In February 2019, they issued the epic-scale Zeppelin Over China, a stylistic throwback to the great two-LP sets of the '70s, and the following April, they gave us Warp and Woof, a reminder of their era of compact genius, with 24 songs crammed into 37 minutes. Six months later, in October 2019, GbV handed over their third long-player of the year, Sweating the Plague, which could be seen as a compromise between those two sets. Like Zeppelin Over China, Sweating the Plague sounds big and bold, with Robert Pollard and his crew (Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr. on guitars, Mark Shue on bass, and Kevin March on drums) quenching their thirst for hard rock bluster and prog rock melodic blandishments. But they're also keeping things relatively compact here, and though 12 songs in 38 minutes is fairly hefty by GbV standards, Sweating the Plague is like a good, solid meal that leaves you satisfied but not bloated, unlike the Thanksgiving-dinner quality of Zeppelin Over China. Sweating the Plague plays like a stately, unified work rather than a set of pop nuggets, though "My Wrestling Days Are Over" sounds like it could have been an outtake from Bee Thousand and "The Very Second" boasts a guitar figure that may have been borrowed from their fellow Ohioans Pere Ubu. Sweating the Plague is best taken as a whole rather than in smaller portions; it works as a clever but swaggering dose of rock & roll, and it plays to this band's strengths while showing how much they've expanded their sonic palette in over three decades...or in a single year, for that matter.

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