“A Subconscious concept album about the sorry state of rock and roll… the White Album meets Quadrophenia meets Jesus Christ Superstar…”
So says Robert Pollard about Let it Beard, the monstrous 2X LP swansong from his current band (non-reunion/non Circus Devils category), Boston Spaceships. This bold pronouncement, coming as it does from one of the elder statesmen of the indie rock (and just plain rock) community is simultaneously a statement of purpose, a rallying cry, and a challenge to the young guns on the scene in all of their ghettoized sub-genres of pop music to kick it up a notch if they truly wish to Rock.
And make no mistake, it is Rock at its most fundamental and iconic that concerns Pollard and the rest of his Spaceships brethren on this album. On Let it Beard, they reach into the past to grasp hold of, not the roots of Rock and Roll, but the full 70s-era, arena-ready flowering of the form. Of course, as any pop music lover (or casual FM Radio listener) can attest, the only proper way to deliver a manifesto on Rock is through the format that reached its pinnacle in the heyday of Zeppelin, Floyd, and The Who – the Double LP.
The Double LP. The very notion is archaic in the age of digital media and yet, the mere mention of the format raises immediate questions. Will this be an epic masterpiece? An overwrought vanity project? A varied collection of songs that desperately needed an editor? To that, Boston Spaceships answer simply “yes…for this is Rock.”
The Double LP is everything but the kitchen sink. It is straight ahead rockers like Tourist UFO. It is the spacey and operatic Let More Light in the House, easily the longest track in Boston Spaceships’ catalog. It is sparkling pop gems (Tabby and Lucy, Chevy Merigold), the catchy single (Christmas Girl), the all-star guest turns from J. Mascis and Colin Newman (among others), and it is something called Juggernaut vs. Monolith. Ultimately, it is the proverbial kitchen sink itself, in the bizarre digression, A Hair in Every Square Inch of the House – because what is The White Album without Revolution No. 9?
In the hands of most musicians, a 76 minute “subconscious concept album” that not only nods to, but celebrates some of the biggest, most overwrought music in history would have almost certainly landed somewhere between nostalgia and kitsch. But Pollard and his fellow Spaceships, former Guided by Voices bandmate Chris Slusarenko and Decemberists drummer John Moen, along with their collaborators, rose to the challenge and created an album that goes well beyond mere homage to reinforce the relevance and necessity of the music that they clearly love.
If, as Pollard has proclaimed, this album does mark the end of Boston Spaceships, it will serve as a fitting monument to the band’s efforts – a towering monolith (or would it be a juggernaut) of vinyl, sweat, and broken guitar strings bearing the simple epitaph “Here Lies ROCK.”
Time to step up your game kids.