The Slow Wonder
s far as indie-pop goes, listeners may have no greater ally than Carl Newman. Though he rose to prominence recently via his albums with The New Pornographers, Newman has spent the last decade sharpening his keen melodic sense with Canadian pop band Zumpano; this, in conjunction with his frequent appearances on albums by Destroyer, Neko Case and Superconductor, has made Newman a virtually unstoppable force in pop music. Here, true to the frequently stripped down-nature of a solo project, his hooks have been whittled from the overstuffed chord changes of his work with Zumpano and The New Pornographers, to sinuous, lean songs on his debut album, The Slow Wonder
At a mere thirty minutes long, The Slow Wonder’s length would seem to promise an album of undeveloped toss-offs. After all, with Newman’s opportunities to siphon these songs off into one of his better-known projects, one can’t help suspect some defection has pre-empted their collection on this record.
Happily, that is not the case. The Slow Wonder is not only the most economical record of the year, it’s one of the most pleasing as well. In fact, if The New Pornographers’ work recalls in equal measure, The Bangles, The Beach Boys and The Ramones, Newman’s work here brings to mind acts like Wire and Nick Lowe (not sounding like particularly either, though if one wanted to be creative, a cross between both). With only two songs approaching the four minute mark, Newman has created a record bearing all the traits that make him such an engaging musical personality in the first place: elliptical wordplay, unusual delivery, and obscenely catchy songs
“Miracle Drug” begins the record by recalling Newman’s entire oeuvre, while sounding like none of it, finally resolving itself in a bleating guitar solo, tripping over itself to meet its end-time. And while not everything here is as nervy as “Miracle Drug,”—though “The Battle For Straight Time,” with its menacing, McLusky-esque hook, and the cello-driven “Town Halo,” come close—Newman’s ballads are informed by a different type of loveliness. “Cloud Prayer,” in particular, is unlike anything Newman’s ever done before. It’s one of the rare songs that sounds like its title—majestic, vaguely gnostic, and utterly bewitching. Lyrically, more so than on The New Pornographers albums, it seems that Newman is singing about something concrete and personal. There’s an emotional credulity to his songs—be they ballads, or rock numbers—that tears into the listener and keeps them coming back.
Thus, the dilemma of Newman’s talent becomes clear: Newman has a knack for pop song-writing so unnaturally huge that it makes listening to his albums a sometimes arduous process. There’s something about his writing that is so buzzy and sugary, that the inevitable post-Newman come-down is brutal; I’ve left this album at least two times with a headache, promising myself to put it away until next summer. But of course, I can’t help myself from coming back. With The Slow Wonder, Newman supercedes the attention given to his other bands and becomes, merely A.C. (Carl) Newman; spry, red-headed, and one singular, fabulous songwriter.
Reviewed by: Eric Seguy
Reviewed on: 2004-06-09