like about half of what The New Pornographers put out, and about a quarter of Neko Case’s solo work. So in 2004, when A.C. Newman released his solo debut, The Slow Wonder, I wasn’t all that excited. But when I heard it, I realized that, like Kurt Cobain and (to a lesser extent) George Harrison, Newman was the most underrated member of a supergroup with an overrated front man. It was a wonderful record.
Now, five years later, A.C. Newman has returned with Get Guilty, and he hasn’t fallen prey to the Sophmore slump. The best songs here will instantly recall the best of the New Pornographers; songs like “Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer” and “The Palace At 4 A.M.” have obscure lyrics and themes and name-drop stuff you only learn about if you have an affair with a college professor, but at the same time the songs sport instantly familiar refrains, so you find yourself singing along to lyrics you don’t understand. The more experimental, pschyopop western, “The Heartbreak Rides For Free” is fascinating, and succeeds where most stuff like this comes off sterile and unapproachable.
There’s very little here that will move you, but I don’t say that in a critical way. Newman doesn’t make intimate songs, he doesn’t make ballads, he doesn’t try to reach his listeners on an emotional level. This is pop, pure and clear, but also smart, quirky, and never boring. And, on occasion, even beautiful. The harmonies on the almost-accappella “Young Atlantis” recall Donovan’s airy whimsy—the kind of music that makes you feel high, even when you’re stone sober.
Coming from Matador in January 2009.