- A.C. Newman
- The Slow Wonder
- July 08, 2004
You know him as Carl Newman, singer and songwriter of the New Pornographers. You know of him as Carl Newman, singer and songwriter, you think, of Zumpano. And here, on his solo debut, the Slow Wonder, he sheds the RL, rearranges the C and A and offers up an album that not only has to live up to his New Pornos hype, but also to the hype of other Pornos side projects, whether they predate or postdate the Pornos themselves (Destroyer, Neko Case, etc.).
And it pretty much does, most of the time-- it's nothing new, but it's that nothing new you've come to know and love. The songcraft and energy are there in spades, except when they're not, and you're pretty much guaranteed to enjoy it, except the parts you might not.
The album's start can only be described as rollicking and lots of it. "Miracle Drug" opens the album with a ridicu-catchy snare- and bass-drum and tambourine phrase, with toe-tappingly minimal two-note guitar riffs overlaid and an insistent but oft-inaudible acoustic guitar strumming away in the background. The lyrics are strange and foreboding and wonderful-- "He 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.'" The degree to which the frantic refrain is wondrous will make you quiver.
"Drink to Me, Babe, Then" is redeemed primarily by the touching slide guitar in the background, providing just the right notes and harmony in the chorus of the otherwise ineffectual tune. The phrase that fades the song out, also, is, I guess, pretty dang dulcet.
Some songs are more reminiscent of Newman's previous affiliations than others-- "On the Table" is a decidedly New Pornos song, ridiculous and sunshine-happy in the vein of anything from Electric Version and even featuring a singer who sounds pretty much like Neko Case, maybe, whose name I forget, but will look up later. The chorus is big and strong and whoopinger than the whooping crane or even the whooping cough. True!
And it goes on like this, except the filler tracks which are unfortunately numerous. "Most of Us Prize Fighters" barely even exists, and while the following two tracks make up for it, the plodding "Come Crash", the twangy "Better Than Most" and the sentimental "The Cloud Prayer" start to get the listener's spirits down.
But fret you not, downtrodden folx, 'cause the album is not over yet! "The Town Halo" posits itself closely behind "Miracle Drug" on the spectrum of being excellent. The bass line, heavy and wonderful, is bowed on a cello or something of similar ilk, and will so make you nod. "35 in the Shade"'s quick repitition is just catchy enough to coast the album to an end where it comes out ahead.
And so chances are in your favor of having a pretty good time with The Slow Wonder. You start to wonder exactly why Newman had to work independently of the Pornos to make this album, seeing as how he is basically in charge or co-in charge of the songwriting for both bands, and how any of these songs could have passed unnoticed on the Electric Version, but whatever, you think, at least Newman's still got it, and you skip back to track one.
- Noah Jackson
- Miracle Drug
- Drink to Me, Babe, Then
- On the Table
- Most of Us Prizefighters
- The Battle for Straight Time
- Come Crash
- Better Than Most
- The Cloud Prayer
- The Town Halo
- 35 in the Shade