After firmly establishing themselves as America's most original and interesting band of part-time, over-30 garage rockers, Under the Bushes Under the Stars found Guided by Voices dipping their toes into something resembling professionalism. Leaving behind the homemade studio craft of their previous work, this album was recorded in a pair of actual recording studios, and the sessions boasted an outside producer (friend and temporary fellow Ohioan Kim Deal); while no one would mistake the results for the latest Bob Rock project, the set sounded more like a "real" record than anything GBV had attempted up to that time. The new edition of the band attempted to rise to the occasion, and though the performances lack the passion of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes' finest moments, the stronger playing and cleaner production honors the pop sensibilities of Robert Pollard's songwriting. Pollard was also reaching for a better controlled style as a songwriter; Under the Bushes Under the Stars boats a mere 18 songs (as opposed to the 30 on Alien Lanes), and most sound like full fledged pop tunes, with fewer shards of musical fancy littering the way. While Pollard's tighter reign over the band and new sense of self-control made this album a more solid and consistent album than GBV had made in the past, it's also not as exciting as Alien Lanes; Pollard's songs lack a certain fire here (though "Man Called Aerodynamics," "Your Name Is Wild," and "The Official Ironmen Rally Song" sound just fine), and the band sounds more stifled than enthused by their new grasp of the material. There's plenty to enjoy here, but it also appeared to have caught Guided by Voices in a transitional stage; just how much they were changing would be revealed on their next two albums.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming