A.C. Newman Get Guilty

[Matador; 2009]

Styles: indie pop
Others: New Pornographers, Apples in Stereo, Beulah

When Stuart Murdoch sang “Nobody writes them like they used to/ So it may as well be me,” on If You’re Feeling Sinister, he surely hadn’t heard of Carl Newman. Sure, that line was hardly delivered with a straight face, but it’s hard to imagine that sentiment being voiced today in any context. Not only would it ring false after a decade of retro retreads, but Murdoch’s speaker/singer wouldn’t dare feign such flippant bravado with professionals like Newman on the scene.

Those bands who have specialized in the sort of music that Newman makes — classic pop/rock, but self-conscious, cerebral, and sped up — well, many of them have recorded for Elephant 6. A most notable exceptions being Newman’s own (ha?) New Pornographers, who have claimed their own spot on indie rock Mount Olympus by having the most busy and versatile sound of the bunch. Newman’s first solo record, The Slow Wonder, was a textbook example of a sleeper record: less flashy but more consistent and approachable than the mother-band. Something you could go back to whenever you wanted because it existed outside of temporal considerations.

Maybe it’s because Newman’s sources are so ingrained into our national consciousness as to feel elemental, or maybe it’s a testament to his artistry, but Get Guilty seems effortless, possibly even ancient. The middle-aged songwriter seems blessed with a preternatural gift for big hooks, but then again he has had a lot of practice. Do you really need me to tell you that the opener “There are Maybe Ten of Twelve” sounds exactly like The Kinks, and that it doesn’t suffer at all for its traceability?

Newman’s voice — and this description holds for his lyrics as well — are immediately expressive, if a bit superficial under close inspection. Get Guilty abounds with memorable soundbites and rock ‘n’ roll riddles such as “I will die with my foot in my mouth/ More magnetic if anything because I had to,” but ultimately the non-message seems to be the one given on “Ten or Twelve Things”: “Make of that what you will.” Newman’s urbane take on 40 years of pop transgression includes feedback, mandolin, female backup vox, and swirling organ, but none are indulged in enough to put a dent in the pop megaliths.

When people refer to Carl Newman’s genius, and here I’m as guilty as the rest, they usually refer to craft and artistry rather than inspiration or inventiveness. This is just a modern rock record, and it definitely won’t change your life, but it’s more than competent and beyond clever.

1. There are Maybe Ten or Twelve
2. The Heartbreak Rides
3. Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer
4. Prophets
5. Submarines of Stockholm
6. Thunderbolts
7. The Palace at 4 A.M.
8. Changeling (Get Guilty)
9. Elemental
10. Young Atlantis
11. The Collected Works
12. All of my Days & All of my Days Off

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