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A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder (review) by Fullofkittens 07/25/2004, 11:45pm PDT
Here's a formula that doesn't work: take a person that had a major creative role in a band I used to really like (say, for example, Throwing Muses or The Pixies), and give them dictatorial control over another band, which turns out to be equally as awesome as the first band (example: Belly, Breeders). Then, since Ms. (or Mr.) Big Creative Person can't be restrained creatively by the band they formed that obeys their every word, they release a solo album. That solo album will have a couple of good songs on it but will mostly be obtuse and boring, despite sounding pretty much like their band. Two examples would be Tanya Donnely's solo record Lovesongs For Underdogs and Kim Deal's solo record Pacer, released under the pseudonym The Amps.

The latest example of this phenomenon is Carl "A.C." Newman. You may remember him from 90's Jimmy Webb-covering indie pop band Zumpano or the completely amazing New Pornographers. I am a big fan of his music. The New Pornographers' "The Laws Have Changed" is maybe the most amazing pop rock song released this century. The fact that he wrote "Temptation Summary" and "Letter From an Occupant" on top of that should guarantee him a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame and all the hot Canadian bitches* he can fit into his igloo.

Despite those successes, he has fallen victim to what I'll dub the Gone Solo Gone Solo Syndrome. His new record The Slow Wonder (rel. June 8th) sounds pretty much like The New Pornographers except shittier. It starts off pretty strong ("Miracle Drug" is pretty good, I guess. No hooky chorus, though), but it very quickly veers off into the Willfully Obtuse Zone. One thing that The Slow Wonder, Pacer, and Lovesongs For Underdogs have in common is a seemingly desparate desire to reach outside the normal production repertoire and use non-traditional instruments and arrangements to "spice up" lackluster songs. It's not hard to draw a line between The Amps "Humming 80 V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-V-..." and the guitar-whistle duet on Newman's "Drink To Me Babe, Then" (which is a not-bad song otherwise.) That's the 2nd song.

The third ("On The Table") is a regular song that doesn't exactly suck so much as it doesn't rock. The New Pornographers sometimes sound like they record their songs on the same day that they learn them, but they rock out hard enough that songs like "Mystery Hours" and "The Body Says No" seem stronger for the looseness. On The Slow Wonder, the songs just seem underpowered and under-rehearsed. Vocal performances lack conviction. The drummer sounds sleepy. The worst offender here is "The Battle For Straight Time" which SUUUUUCKS. That Carl Newman, songwriting superhero, could write a song that is not only skip-worthy but skip-NECESSARY is a real shame.

There isn't a lot going for the rest of the record. "Secretarial" sounds almost exactly like Elvis Costello's song "Fish-n-Chip Paper" except without the great chorus and without The Attractions tightening it up. "The Town Halo" sounds a hell of a lot like Wings, and I mean that in a bad way; here too is an example of a pretty bad song unsuccessfully made good by the addition of a horribly corny cello part.

There are a couple of points scored in the late innings: "Better Than Most" would be a good B-side, if there were only a good A-side lying around somewhere. "The Cloud Prayer" is actually amazing and beautiful, with a catchy, not-nonsensical-for-once verse, a gorgeous chorus and a brass choir bridge that can really only be described in fag terms like "breathtaking" and "soaring." But that brief breath of fresh air is painfully short: the song is barely 2 minutes long, and then after that brief glimpse the record is lost back to Hades forever. Hmph.

Indie pop fans should get their hands on "The Cloud Prayer" and "Drink To Me Babe, Then." I don't recommend you buy it. If P2P guilt starts to set in, remind yourself that Canada's crazy and benevolent ice-government paid for the recording under the auspices of the Canada Music Fund.

Good songs/total songs: 4.5/11
Snare drum sound: nice basement vibe but it could have been snappier.
Line that stuck with me for some reason:
He was tied to a job selling miracle drugs from his home/At his door every morning, a trophy arrived with the dawn, with the following inscribed/"we've followed you with interest for some time." (from "Miracle Drug")
Overall: 2.5 on the collegiate four-point scale.


*are there hot bitches in Canada? Not temperature-wise, obviously.
A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder (review) by Fullofkittens 07/25/2004, 11:45pm PDT NEW
    Re: A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder (review) by Turboghandi 08/27/2004, 6:40pm PDT NEW
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