Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Certain Songs #1950: Robert Pollard & Doug Gillard – “Pop Zeus” | Medialoper

Album: Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department
Year: 1999

. . .

And so the conceit of Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department was pretty simple: current Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard would play all of the instruments and Robert Pollard would do all of the vocals. Most of the songs were Pollard’s, but some were co-writes, including the towering “Pop Zeus!”

So, because of that, I don’t know who is responsible for the melody of “Pop Zeus!” but I can report that its an absolute killer. Obviously the words and vocals are Pollard’s and the guitars — oh holy god those guitars! — are Gillard’s.

“Pop Zeus!” starts with its main guitar hook already in progress and it’s an absolute fucking stunner, a wiry, spidery thing where every single note is an individual and yet contributes seamlessly with the whole thing. It’s brilliant. Over it and a ringing rhythm guitar, Pollard sings the first verse:

He who shits out magic may shine
For the good of customs and calling

And at that, the whole band comes crushing in. And by “whole band,” I basically mean Gillard overdubbing himself: two guitars, bass and drums.

Call him Max
Send him a fax
Charge him no tax
Pop Zeus

As always, it doesn’t even matter whether it makes sense, especially as the song progresses and Gillard the drummer mixes up the beat on I guess is the chorus.

Call him sermon, find him a helmet
He will come crashing, pop Zeus
Electric newspaper boy
Electric newspaper boy
Electric newspaper boy

And it’s right here where Robert Pollard takes over the song: his screams of “ele-tRICK news-PAP-er boYYYYYYYY” over and over and over are so massive and so beautiful and so wonderful, especially as Gillard the lead guitar player is utterly unrelenting playing that hook, driving it into your left brain while Pollard’s lovely scream take over the right. Or maybe it’s the other way around. All I know that it’s magic.

In the end, though, Gillard has the final word, just through sheer determination: after Pollard has basically exhausted his ever-more intense supply of “ele-tRICK news-PAP-er boYYYYYYYYs”, he sings one last “pop Zeus!” and then, with other other recourse, sings the riff:


Dear reader, I have over 400 songs written by Robert Pollard in my iTunes library. And even I know that’s a drop in the bucket. But I will say this: with the possible exception of “I Am A Scientist,” he has written no better song.

“Pop Zeus!”

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