Review ·

Well, I never thought I’d be calling a Carl Newman-helmed album “a grower.” But here we are: It’s 2009, and I’m stamping that overused critical term on his latest solo effort, Get Guilty. What a strange era we live in.

Flash back to the first half of this decade, when Newman was crafting a ridiculous trilogy of pop albums with the New Pornographers: Mass Romantic in 2000, The Electric Version in ’03 and Twin Cinema in ‘05. Those songs were spring-loaded to burst from the speakers and smack people in the face on the first listen. It was all damn exhilarating, but also kind of uptight in its own way. For all their apparent spontaneity, these tunes were still a perfectionist’s clockwork masterpieces.

Challengers signaled a shift in 2007, and Get Guilty pretty much cements it: Newman doesn’t need to impress anyone anymore. So the new record begins with the shambling, rambling “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve,” which honestly bewildered me a bit on first listen. Sure, the verse lyrics are head-scratchingly oblique -- that’s nothing new for Newman.

But then comes the refrain: “Make of that what you will,” delivered in a dismissive deadpan over cymbal crashes and tweeting recorders. It’s always a dicey proposition to speculate on an artist’s intentions, but Newman’s practically daring me here. It feels like a gauntlet-throwing moment: The singer is doing damn well as he pleases on this record.

After that jarring opening, things slip back to Newman’s bread-and-butter pop. Almost. Whereas past albums -- especially solo debut The Slow Wonder -- felt factory-sealed and immaculately preserved in the studio, Get Guilty comes across a bit scruffier around the edges at times.

“Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer” sidewinds through jagged flamenco-guitar breaks, before hitting one of those trademark sunburst Newman choruses, complete with a melodica flourish. Then there’s “The Palace at 4 A.M.” whose big-room reverb gives it the feel of a live recording.

Elsewhere, Newman continues to pack enough ideas into three-minute bursts to give each track its own personality. Delicately crafted suites like “Thunderbolts” and “Young Atlantis” showcase his lighter touch, while “Submarines of Stockholm” flashes a bit of aggression between droning sonar pings. And of course, it wouldn’t be a complete effort without that one big adrenaline-rush moment: the “change your mind” chorus on the title track.

Everything’s a little less condensed here than previous entries into the Newman catalogue, and the compositions even get to hang loose at times. That does lead to some delayed gratification, but it’s still exciting to see Newman let his hair down a bit -- in an understated manner, of course.

 

***

Artist: http://www.acnewman.net

Label: http://www.matadorrecords.com

Audio: http://www.myspace.com/acnewman 

 

  • There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve
  • The Heartbreak Rides
  • Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer
  • Prophets
  • Submarines Of Stockholm
  • Thunderbolts
  • The Palace At 4 a.m.
  • The Changeling (Get Guilty)
  • Elemental
  • Young Atlantis
  • The Collected Works
  • All Of My Days And All Of My Days Off

Get Guilty is the second solo effort from Carl Newman, and counting his work with his main project the New Pornographers, the fifth record in six years that he has written. It features the trademark hooks and whip-smart lyrics that fans of 2004's The Slow Wonder are well acquainted with. The title of the album is a nod to postmodernist author Donald Barthelme, as is the track "The Palace at 4 A.M.," which was inspired by one of his short stories. Newman also knows how to make musical allusions--the album features guest spots by Mates of State and Jon Wurster of Superchunk, and was recorded in the same space that the Pixies laid down Doolittle.

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surprisingly not that bad. its hard to separate him from the new pornos though, which is the only comparison i could think of while listening to it.

jason

Don't find this to be as great as Slow Wonder, but then that would be quite an achievement, as I think of that album as one of the best of the decade. What's with the horrible album cover on this one?

/site_media/uploads/images/users/broctoon/jar.jpg broctoon

I like this one - it grew on me and I like it more after several listens than I did the first time around. I agree with broctoon that it isn't as great as Slow Wonder but as far as power pop goes this is definitely a goody. I am seeing AC Newman live in a few weeks and will be interested in hearing some of these new songs performed.

Erin

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