As Carl Newman passed through Vancouver and Seattle last week, I was disappointed that I couldn’t make it to either show. If you have read this blog before, Carl is hands down my favourite songwriter. I have been a fan for over 20 years. The recent release of his third solo album Shut Down the Streets is a fine addition to his catalog. As the primary songwriter for the New Pornographers, one would hope for the solo albums to be a slight departure from the NP sound, otherwise what’s the point? Two-thousand-four’s The Slow Wonder was excellent, but felt like some not quite New Pornographers songs…and 2009’s Get Guilty seemed not quite up to his usual standard. I read somewhere that Newman wanted to release it before the end of the decade because then he would have released four New Pornographers albums and two solo albums in a decade–a respectable output. And I can’t help but feel that he rushed to get Get Guilty done. Sure, there are great songs, like Like a Hitman, and All my days…but it is definitely my least favourite of anything he has ever done.
With Shut Down the Streets he has finally hit the mark of what a solo album should be, showing us another side of his talents (as if the wide disparity between Superconductor and Zumpano wasn’t enough to prove that point). The album is a little more acoustic, a little mellower, yet still catchy. Dare I say, a little folksier. Standouts include the first track “I’m not talking” which rivals the New Pornographers track “Challengers” in beauty, and “Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns”. The latter’s title is typical of Newman’s humour (his on-stage banter is second only to Mudhoney’s Mark Arm). This guy has yet to do any wrong in my book and is certainly under-recognized for his songwriting talent. When I watched the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch I was impressed with Stephen Trask’s ability to write a great song in almost any genre, but Newman is right up there with him in versatility, albeit within the spectrum of pop/rock. Go have a listen and support the guy.