The New Pornographers have long established themselves as power-pop stalwarts of the first order, with Carl Newman the de facto driving force behind an already formidable cross-cultural supergroup, so the drive to prove himself as a solo artist seems fairly unnecessary. He’s undoubtedly capable, as evidenced by 2004’s The Slow Wonder. But with his second solo effort, the prolific songwriter and multi-instrumentalist merely demonstrates that in terms of output, less can be more.
- A.C. Newman
- Beyond the Weekly
- A.C. Newman
Opening salvo “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve” delivers, via crashing tympanies, keys and strings that send chimes scattering for safety, a rousing proclamation—one that never quite makes good on its promise. Turns out Newman needs his Pornographer cohorts far more than that “A” in his solo moniker. Aside from the windswept, yearning “The Heartbreak Rides” and the sing-along swing of “The Changeling (Get Guilty),” there’s not much that rises above a rhythmic, sun-splashed haze. The ethereal, cascading “Prophets” comes closest, but any potential uplift plateaus far too soon. Even the four-part “Thunderbolts,” with its aggressive melodic interplay and coyly repetitive drone, fails to reach anything resembling a destination.
Newman’s dense lyrical puzzles remain as thorny as ever, as does the range of sounds employed. But Guilty’s overall movement isn’t forward or even sideways. If anything, it’s an eyes-clinched spin in place, serving as a brief respite before resuming his blaze through the musical underbrush.