Though less widely acclaimed than his New Pornographers bandmate Neko Case, Carl (AC) Newman has steadily developed his own niche as an idiosyncratic singer-songwriter.
Five years on from his solo debut The Slow Wonder, this follow-up finds him mining similar terrain on the borders of pop and psychedelia, and with his penchant for lyrical and musical games undiminished.
Newman is an unreconstructed pop classicist fascinated by the warp and weft of pop creation. Several tracks here are meta-songs dealing with the compositional process itself: indeed, the opening track "There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve..." is barely a line old before he's deconstructing it. "That wasn't the opening line," he advises, "that was the tenth or the twelfth", as if it makes any difference to us. But then, Newman's songs rarely make more than the most tangential, allegorical sense to anyone but himself, and this is no exception, its apparently random observations and impromptu corrections marshalled with the recurrent disclaimer, "Make of that what you will."
The album's most obviously appealing track, "Submarines of Stockholm", finds him wrestling self-consciously with more knotty lyrical problems. "Few have the luxury of B-sides, no, but I do," he observes, commanding himself to "stop twisting your words into shapes, shapes you can only make out when you squint". It's as if he's anxious about heading into uncharted territory, but when the territory is as engaging as this jaunty boogie-pop, why be so worried? At other times, he frets about losing faith with populism in "Prophets" and pursues a series of metaphorical non sequiturs up his own fundament in "Like a Hit Man, Like a Dancer".
But lurking beneath the surface confusion of lyrical games and second-guessing lie some of the most memorable melodies and subtle arrangements in modern pop. In "The Collected Works", stalking piano, tambourine, naive recorder and smudges of distantly screeching violin soundtrack a lyric possibly attacking George Bush; echoing vocal harmonies bring a lilting structure to "Young Atlantis"; and the deep horn textures, ringing harmonies and chiming guitars of "The Changeling (Get Guilty)" recall the great Roy Wood in his pomp. All Newman's more agreeable characteristics reach equally fruitful alliance in "The Heartbreak Rides", wherein a band of latterday outlaws heads west for the California lush life, chugging gently along in a sun-dappled haze as he notes how "something in the basic swing of things led them to victimless crimes". It's hard to dislike a song with a singalong refrain of "Yo-ho!" Make of that what you will.
Pick of the album:'Submarines of Stockholm', 'The Heartbreak Rides', 'The Changeling (Get Guilty)'Reuse content