Of the New Pornographers’ vocalists, Carl Newman is the least prolific in terms of solo material. Dan Bejar seems to be the most active outside the band, having collaborated with Swan Lake and Hello Blue Roses, in addition to Destroyer. And he releases solo albums about every other year, which makes for a pretty good spread, just in this decade alone. Neko Case’s output isn’t quite as plentiful, though what she has released in the past eight years has been nearly flawless, while Newman’s output, thus far, has been limited to two albums—2004’s The Slow Wonder and his newest effort Get Guilty. It seems like a small number, but as the primary songwriter in the Pornos, Newman can only tear himself away from the band for so long. When he does, however, he never fails to bring a brief, but solid set of spunky power pop on par with his headlining act.
Of all the New Pornographers’ vocalists, Newman is also the one whose solo work sounds the most like that of the band’s. With Get Guilty, he unpacks a tightly crafted dozen songs, all loaded with hooks and choruses galore, never indulging in noisy experimentation or abstract concepts. This man writes pop songs, and those who haven’t figured that out yet should likely look elsewhere. And as far as pop songs go, those on Get Guilty are splendid. Leadoff track “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve” is big and majestic, parading with fanfare and heroism. It’s big, but still short, like Brian Wilson’s best, while “The Heartbreak Rides” is an organ driven ballad that finds our singer chanting “yo-ho.” Maybe he went pirate while we weren’t looking.
On “Like a Hitman, Like A Dancer,” Newman strums away at a flamenco-influenced progression that breaks down into a boy-girl chorus that could have easily been a Challengers outtake. It’s not until “Submarines of Stockholm” that Newman kicks out a fuzzy rock song like the kind that made The Slow Wonder such an irresistible treat. Needless to say, it’s one of the album’s highlights, packed with swagger and energy, and some kind of weird space moan that closes out each measure. “The Palace at 4 A.M.” is another such track, one not nearly as badass, but still a fun excuse to bop around.
The unfortunate downside of Get Guilty is that its high energy, power pop tracks are few and far between. That isn’t to say that Newman doesn’t do a swell enough job with his ballads, but even for an album so short, it could use a bit more to break up the sleepier tracks. For its minor flaws, however, Get Guilty is another collection of pop delights. We’ll see if it takes another five years to get a third.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.