Robert Pollard doesn’t need three minutes to make a song stick in your head for the rest of your life. Hell, sometimes he doesn’t need a minute. It’s what separates him from so many others, and he’s been doing it for decades. Time is never an issue for Uncle Bob. Time, as a wise man once said, is on his side. However, time is a major issue with Jack Sells the Cow, in that it takes too long for the record to really get spinning. It’s impossible for any Pollard release, solo or otherwise, to go too long without delivering something memorable, but he comes close to blowing it here.
There are front-heavy records; there are back-loaded records. The strange case of Jack Sells the Cow is that it’s so solid in the middle that the sides sag in comparison. It’s in the middle third of the album that we get “Pontius Pilate Heart”, with those jangly R.E.M. guitars that Pollard’s always been so fond of (and, without question, the best thing Pontius Pilate has ever been a part of). “Big Groceries” is a little dirtier around the edges before his boast of “I’m as true as true can be/ Now I’m as true as true can be” poppy-s up the chorus. The quiet, electric guitar of “The Rank of a Nurse” could have fit on either Guided By Voices release this year, complete with trademark Pollard optimism (“She pulls the rank of a bitch/ The rank of a child/ The rank of a nurse/ But you could have it worse you know”).
The problem with several other tracks is that they wear out their welcome after about a minute. Pollard’s so adept at knowing when to end a song that it’s frustrating to hear “Who’s Running My Ranch?” at two minutes too long, with its question on repeat. “Heaven Is a Gated Community” is much of the same — a slog through the swamp with “I wanna go with you” repeated ad-nauseam. Hitting repeat on the verse department worked wonders on the last GBV record (ex. “Keep It in Motion”), but these are the worst efforts here. We could look at Jack Sells the Cow as a welcome mat to GBV’s Bears for Lunch in November, but what will that matter two months from now? Jack sold the cow, but there is no beanstalk to be found. Move along.
Essential Tracks: “Pontius Pilate Heart”, “Big Groceries”, and “The Rank of a Nurse”