Playing to Type: The Bats stick to what they know on The Guilty Office.

One problem with keeping a band together for more than 20 years is that after the first decade or so, you don’t just have to battle other bands for attention—your back catalog becomes an adversary as well. The Bats have been releasing good, frequently brilliant, records since the late ’80s—but the New Zealand indie-pop quartet would probably have an easier time hawking a Don’t Look Back-style tour based around its beloved 1987 debut, Daddy’s Highway, than it would getting anybody to pony up cash for its latest, The Guilty Office. It’s a shame, because The Guilty Office is a fine record, for all of the same reasons that made the Bats’ old stuff so good. Singer/guitarist Robert Scott has never veered far from the jangly, guitar-driven fare that the group staked out during its early years. That does not change on The Guilty Office. A modest string arrangement, maybe an accordion melody—for the Bats these count as experimentation. All the group’s signature moves are present on album opener “Countersign.” Scott strums three chords, sings a melancholy verse, then vocalist-guitarist Kaye Woodward chimes in during the chorus to beef up Scott’s unsteady croon. Finally, there’s a quick, non-showy guitar solo and…scene. Scott knows what he’s good at and sticks to it; few can work a Velvet Underground riff as tenderly as he does on “Satellites” or “Broken Path.” But where Lou Reed would adorn such songs with lyrics of epic melancholy, the defeats suffered by Scott’s characters are a little less exotic. “By the lights of the motel sign burning in their eyes/They could tell that their plan was never gonna work,” he sings on “Later On That Night,” capturing the sadness of long and unsuccessful rock touring with a poignancy that would bring a tear to the eye of even the most grizzled road dog. After more than 20 years and eight records, the Bats deliver something on The Guilty Office that they couldn’t muster on Daddy’s Highway: long-term perspective.