Allan Carl Newman is best known as the driving force behind Vancouver’s indie-pop supergroup The New Pornographers. Newman started a solo career because fellow New Pornographer Neko Case was working on her own solo material, and the band didn’t want to tour without her.
Newman’s three solo albums to dae are substantial enough that they deserve their own page – they share the sophisticated pop/rock sound of his band, but are often less rock-oriented and more mellow. Although he’s classified as a power-pop artist, Newman’s songs are deceptive complex – Newman admires sophisticated writers of the 1960s like Brian Wilson and Jimmy Webb.
Newman told Stereogum that he was partly inspired to become a rock musician when he realized that Hüsker Dü, “the coolest punk band of the moment, was made up of a guy with a handlebar mustache and another other guy who looks like a chubby preppy.” He started his career in the Canadian grunge/pop band Superconductor, and released two albums with the band Zumpano in the 1990s. He also played guitar with the metal band Nemesis Gypsy. .
A.C. Newman Album Reviews
The Slow Wonder | Get Guilty | Shut Down The Streets
The Slow Wonder
The Slow Wonder was released between the two strongest New Pornographers albums – 2003’s The Electric Version and 2005’s Twin Cinema. To my mind, it forms a trilogy with those records, comprising of Newman’s strongest work as a recording artist. The New Pornographers’ John Collins co-produces and plays bass, but otherwise Newman’s supported by a largely obscure cast of musicians. There’s more use of orchestral instruments, with prominent cello and trumpet, which results in a more mellow album. But despite a more relaxed sound, it’s vibrant and joyful.
There’s still a lot of Newman’s usual power-pop – ‘Miracle Drug’ is a strong opener, ‘On The Table’ sounds like an outtake from The Electric Version, while ‘Secretarial’ changes gears from an orchestral verse to a crashing chorus. The mellow stretch in the third quarter of the record is the largest departure from Newman’s usual style – ‘Come Crash’ and ‘Better Than Most’ are sparse compared to the New Pornographers’ vibrant arrangements. The cello introduction of ‘The Town Halo’ is a great moment, while ’35 in the Shade’ is an energetic closer.
The Slow Wonder is peak-era Newman, one of the best records he’s made.
Newman’s sophomore album takes its title from a phrase that he read in a Donald Barthelme short story. The Slow Wonder carved out some new territory for Newman, with more orchestral instrumentation and mellow tempos. Get Guilty follows a similar model, but it’s less fresh and exciting the second time around.
Even on a lesser Newman album, there are pleasures – the simple strummed riff of ‘Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer’ is exciting, while the dreamy guitar of ‘Prophets’ provides one of the most memorable moments. Newman, perhaps playfully, compared ‘The Collected Works’ to ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’. It’s nowhere near as bombastic as Queen, but it’s one of the most urgent sounding songs on Get Guilty.
Newman’s a gifted songwriter; he’s made many terrific records, and the competent yet unexciting Get Guilty is a long way down the list of his best work.
Shut Down The Streets
According to his blog entry on the Huffington Post, Newman’s third solo album was inspired by Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’. Newman had gone through eventful times in his personal life, becoming a father and losing his mother. He wrote that Shut Down The Streets covers “birth, death, happiness and sadness, chronicling a time in my life where all those things had to learn to coexist side by side.” The more personal songs make Shut Down The Streets a different spin on Newman’s usual work, and it boasts a strong set of tunes.
Opener ‘I’m Not Talking’ is built around a gorgeous woodwind melody. ‘Strings’ is a celebration of fatherhood and also has a lovely orchestral riff. Neko Case’sa harmonies elevate ‘Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns’, and it would have sounded great on a New Pornographers’ album.
Newman’s most personal album, Shut Down The Streets is a lovely set of tunes.
10 Best A.C. Newman Songs
On The Table
Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns
The Town Halo
I’m Not Talking
Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer
The Collected Works
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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