Circus Devils: Laughs Last [Album Review]

Circus Devils
Laughs Last
Happy Jock Rock Records [2017]


Fire Note Says: Circus Devils bow out with grace after a 16-year run.

Album Review: For sixteen years, Bob Pollard from Guided By Voices and the Tobias brothers have collaborated to form the Circus Devils. Laughs Last is their official final release as a band. The record doesn’t start off great. The first few tracks click by with a heavy tossed off feeling, discouraged by the sheer weight of all the songs which Bob Pollard has penned.

But thankfully, that feeling changes after the first few songs. “I do the Nixon” is where the album starts to turn around. There is not a more diverse collection of music from Pollard that you will find because Laughs Last runs the full gamut of plaintive crooning over a full studio treatment, to scratchy seemingly tossed off lyrics, with the occasional bouts of clarity. “To Each His Zone” has a twangy refrain where the tune comes into focus and even after all these years, they can still surprise the listener. The Tobias’ brother’s presence acts as a solid foundation for Pollard to croon forward, often with an elegiac tone, so it feels like the funeral that this final release is supposed to be. “Farn Action,” has a ridiculous set of lyrics that is mismatched by the arrangement and feels like a step back.

It’s a shame that Circus Devils were always going to play second fiddle to Guided by Voices, but such is the case when an artist like Pollard has so many side projects and we have so little time to take them all in.

It is a relief that the Circus Devils chose this final outing to really show us what has been up their sleeve for all these years. On the closer “Asteroid”, you will find a warm bed of synthesizers that acts as a base for Pollard’s voice which rises up like the night sky being viewed from space. “The lights are burning out behind and ahead of me. Dead cell material dissolving. Fitting dreams of mass destruction.” It’s a fitting farewell.

Key Tracks: “Asteroid” / “To Each His Zone (Sunshine Baby Butt)” / “Smoke Machine”

Artists With Similar Fire: Guided By Voices / Robert Pollard

Circus Devils Website
Happy Jack Rock Records

– Reviewed by Adam Strong

Adam Strong

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