Get Guilty

A.C. Newman

Matador, 2009

http://www.acnewman.net/

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/29/2009

Winter can be considered a graveyard when it comes to quality releases. With the exception of delayed Academy Award releases, most film companies dump their worst offerings off on audiences. With the exception of Lost, TV viewers don’t really have much to talk about until sweeps month. But music has taken a welcome exception to the rule. January is barely halfway over and we’ve already had one amazing album release (Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion) and now a very strong release from New Pornographers leader A.C. Newman.

Get Guilty could have easily been a January-type of release. Since his last solo album, Newman has released one certified classic (Twin Cinema) and a hit-and-miss follow-up (Challengers). With little time to rest, one could have worried that after Challengers, Newman was running low on ideas and inspiration and could seriously benefit from some time off.

Worry not. Get Guilty showcases all of the gifts that make Newman such a great pop songwriter: sickly catchy hooks, quirky wordplay and a voice that seems to stick in your head for all the best reasons despite his limitations. In many ways, Get Guilty is even better than his debut, The Slow Wonder. While Wonder was a welcome departure that proved Newman didn’t have to shout his choruses to be effective, it had a degree of sameness that bogged down the weaker tracks. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Get Guilty corrects Wonder’s somewhat monotony by raising the up-tempo ratio and adding vocalist Nicole Atkins. Like Kathryn Calder, who sings with The New Pornographers, Atkins’ voice bears some heavy resemblance to Neko Case (who sings with the Pornographers when she isn’t going solo). The addition of Atkins’ vocals helps prevent the phenomenon of thinking you are listening to the same song, despite the fact that your CD player has advanced five tracks since you last looked.

Some of Get Guilty succumbs to the same problems that made Challengers a disappointment. “Like a Hitman, Like A Dancer” and “Submarines Of Stockholm” both suffer from the fact that Newman has recorded similar songs that are far more memorable on earlier discs. Unlike most albums, which suffer from front-loading (putting the best material at the beginning of the album), Get Guilty suffers from the exact opposite. After a great opening, you are left with a first half that makes you hope it will eventually grow on you.

The best part, of course, is that Get Guilty makes a helluva rally. You could just skip to “Thunderbolts” or remove most of the weak first tracks altogether for your iPod, but that prevents the satisfaction of getting to Guilty’s best bits. It’s like weathering an overlong middle section of a book to get to a great climax.

“The Palace At 4 A.M.” almost makes the album worth the purchase. The driving, relentless percussion beat melds perfectly with Newman’s staccato vocal delivery. Throw in some wise horn arrangements, some subtle backing vocals and a ridiculously catchy chorus of “It was a straight shot / But lady would you call it off?” and you’ve got one of the best pop songs written by one of the best pop songwriters this decade.

The following title track, “Changeling (Get Guilty) and “Young Atlantis” are almost as catchy. A casual fan would probably be best off downloading these three songs and the opening track on iTunes and calling it good. However, Get Guilty is an album best digested whole. Plodding through the weaker tracks just make the better ones sound so much better and the artistry of the best tracks will eventually enable some of the weaker material to grow on you.

This was a day where I was supposed to review Animal Collective’s new one. Instead, the day was spent listening to this album three times on Spinner, a site that streams albums for free during their first week of release. It does not have the flash of an album that aims to break into the mainstream. What it does have is Newman’s wordplay and knack for creating a few songs that will not leave your head after just one listen.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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