One of the biggest failings of Robert Pollard's ever-expanding body of solo recordings has been that the sizable majority of them follow the same template: Pollard writes a new batch of tunes, throws some words on them, records the vocals and acoustic guitar tracks, and frequent collaborator Todd Tobias does the rest. Not surprisingly, these albums tend to sound and feel very much the same, and most of the strongest albums from Pollard's post-GBV repertoire have found him switching up his formula by working in different ways with other people, most notably on his Boston Spaceships, Keene Brothers, and Lifeguards projects. Now Pollard has found another way to upend his routine; while he has traditionally written music first and then added lyrics, for Lord of the Birdcage he's taken ten poems he'd previously authored and set them to music. While the lyrical and musical approach isn't all that different than what one would expect from Pollard, it does make a significant difference in the quality of the finished product, and Lord of the Birdcage sounds more carefully crafted than anything Pollard has made on his own since retiring Guided by Voices. The ten songs on Lord of the Birdcage don't boast much more lyrical coherence than we've come to expect from Pollard -- he's as impressionistic as ever here -- but the stylized images of his words are stronger and more pointed than usual, and he sings them with greater confidence and assurance. And while "Aspersion," "Garden Smarm," and "Ash Ript Telecopter" marry his words to the sort of smart pop melodies that have become his trademark, the minimal percussive angst of "You Can't Challenge Forward Progress," the gentle acoustic contemplation of "In a Circle," and the dynamic hard rock of "Silence Before Violence" suggest that this experiment has done as much for Pollard's melodies as his verbiage. Lord of the Birdcage is strong and diverse enough to stand out among Pollard's solo efforts, and proves once again this man's talents shine brightest when he finds new ways to challenge himself.