Spin magazine recently gushed that “pop genius Carl Newman should be required by law to release an album every month.” Finally, a rule of thumb that makes sense. Going by his rock alter-ego A.C. Newman, the New Pornographers frontman is taking his time on his solo debut, The Slow Wonder.
Could this be the next New Pornographers album? Not quite. It contains a lot of the upbeat, cheery melodies consistent on 2000’s Mass Romantic and 2003’s The Electric Version, but there’s something uniquely quirky about Newman’s own efforts that make it stand on its own. It almost has a Ben Folds/Wayne Coyne essence to it.
Newman opens with “Miracle Drug” in a blaze of surf drums and guitar licks. He tells the story of a man who was “tied to the bed with a miracle drug in one hand/ In the other, a great lost novel that, I understand, was returned with a stamp/ That said, ‘Thank you for your interest, young man.’ “
And to sheer surprise, the lack of Ms. Neko Case doesn’t make a lickin’ difference; instead Newman vocalizes with Sarah Wheeler, who complements his presence. Case’s charismatic pipes are important on a New Pornographers’ track, but Newman’s songs are strong enough that you hardly care that she’s not there on his.
Some of the slower ballads seem to just drift. But before your A.D.D. has a chance to take over, Newman jumps into a dark pop beat again. And just when you’re really starting to get into each track, the album ends, after just thirty-four minutes of damn good songs. “Secretarial” and “The Town Halo” could possibly be two of the catchiest bits I’ve heard all year. Ripe with catchy but unpredictable hooks Mr. Newman will have us eating out of his hand.
Newman sings more avidly about heartbreak on “Drink to Me Babe, Then.” He proceeds to talk about himself as a fallen hero among the others in “Most of Prizefighters”: “Most of us prizefighters will fall from passion.”
And there’s no ego about that lyric either. If Newman were forced to come up with something new each month, it’d be the perfect Hollywood ending — the underdog would win every time. No one would expect some dude who looks like Conan O’Brein-meets-Carrot Top would woo fans over, but there you have it. Carl Newman does it with humour and grace every time.