"I can write six songs while sitting on the toilet, and three of them will be good."
It's always a tasking argument when it comes to the importance of quality and quantity. There is hardly a population of artists that can accomplish both. Those of who we associate with this trait are folks like Frank Zappa, Sun Ra or even Pollard himself, though there are some uncomfortable exceptions. Some people have pinpointed that there was a stopping point in the Guided by Voices catalog, but I can hardly believe that some would cut it off before 2002. To cut off Universal Truths and Cycles hurts my heart more than it could hurt Pollard's; it's been such a long time since I've heard an incredible rock album like this.
For those accustomed to the two minutes-or-less, scratchy structures of the old GBV material, the production quality will be the most obvious factor to jump out. The cohesiveness between the songs has also improved over the years, but that isn't the only change. Since the classic lineup's split, the band brought in two former members of the Breeders for their new lineup started in '98; they also jumped around record labels before returning to Matador.
In my mind I divide this album like it is on the LP, split down the middle between the hefty 19 tracks that sprawl across it like a landscape. A quick, catchy introduction by "Wire Greyhounds" shows that Pollard didn't leave his good tunes back in the toilet bowl. Following after, "Skin Parade" delivers a sonic grind of trippy riffage and word play. The album takes a break from this experimentation come track five and whisks over a breath of poppy hooks in "Cheyenne"; I am still surprised that this wasn't a huge radio hit. While this was also one of the highest chart topping GBV album's at the time of it's release, it seems to have been long forgotten, buried underneath the heaps of Pollard releases to follow. It's really hard not to love an album that can manage to squeeze in the dessert crème brûlée as a lyric.
The songs on the record fluctuate around the traditional two minute mark, but there's also some that may venture passed four minutes: an uncommon trait for the band. "Car Language" is one of these uncommon slow burners, but the intense build through the track is rewarding. Though it isn't hard to reach the end of the album, the title track "Universal Truths and Cycles" is definitely a treat for anyone able to stick it out, set on a heavy-ass, infectious groove. In the closing song, the record ends on a positive note with Pollard repetitively singing "so God bless you." After the final click of closure from my record player, I tend to take this blessing to heart. The world of music is truly blessed to have a band like Guided by Voices around, who even after years of servitude are able to still deliver their own quality brand of ever-evolving music.