Review of the Week: A.C. Newman
A.C. Newman Get Guilty (Matador)
Carl Newman has lost his spunk.
That's not an indictment of Newman as a power-pop balladeer. On the New Pornographers frontman's first solo album, 2004's The Slow Wonder, he sprinkled several killer midtempo tracks and sweet slow jams between the sugar-rush rockers that made him indie-famous. The various shades left listeners with a fuller portrait of Newman the songwriter, and the album remains the best of the many marvelous LPs he has released this decade.
So the fact that Get Guilty is ridden with middling tempos is not necessarily a death sentence. Newman has shown he can excel without accelerating. Rather, a simple lack of life in those tunes is what condemns Newman's new record to a sort of almost-satisfying mediocrity.
Get Guilty starts off well enough. "There are Maybe Ten or Twelve" plays like a processional, opening things up with a pomp and circumstance unlike any previous Newman effort. It's the sort of track that might have been buried deep into The Slow Wonder, and despite the track's high quality, its placement here is an immediate red flag. "The Heartbreak Rides" follows with a slightly friskier pace and a similarly epic scope, but there's something subdued about it that keeps its triumphant melody from delivering with the same potency of kindred compositions like "Sing Me Spanish Techno" and "The Bleeding Heart Show."
From there, the lethargy that reared its head on the last New Pornographers' album, Challengers, returns with full force — or lack thereof. Newman's talent is such that prolonged exposure to these songs can almost convince you that they're worthy additions to his canon. "Submarines of Stockhold" has a certain sass to it, for instance. But a quick spin through the back catalog is a sufficient reminder of the electricity Newman seems to have lost in recent years.
The redhead's recent offerings can best be compared to a once-great TV series that still looks and feels the same, but fails to crackle like it did in the glory days — think post-nuke 24 or the last couple seasons of The OC. Basically, Newman jumped the shark. Trouble is, the good old days were so good that his devotees can't be blamed if they stick around for each successive release, like so many Simpsons fans waiting for a renaissance that may never come.