In the New Pornographers, the supergroup A.C. Newman helms, his literate pop proves highly addictive because it is book-smart and fun — Village Green-era Kinks run through a modern lens à la the Shins. And on Newman's 2009 solo disc, Get Guilty, he proved he could deliver an entire LP of literate sing-alongs.
But Newman's third and latest solo effort, Shut Down the Streets, is instead autobiographical and more subdued, and its blemishes cancel out his strengths. In the press for this album, Newman cites as inspiration late-'70s Gerry Rafferty and fellow Canuck Gordon Lightfoot, which points inexorably to soft-focus Dad rock. Not surprising, since Streets covers the birth of Newman's son and the death of his mother, which occurred in close proximity.
But we rarely engage with Newman's emotions on a visceral level, because the songs are hampered by too many half-formed hooks and middling soft-rock tempos. "You Had to Be There" and "Troubadour" are typical, the former's melodica and slide guitar pointing to a crescendo that never arrives, the latter's repetitive refrain and over-reliance on fellow Pornographer Neko Case's super-voice no substitute for the missing hook.
Newman fares better when he pushes the tempo, as he does on the layer cake "Not Talking," which pops out of the speakers the way a pocket symphony should, and "Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns," which Case nearly steals in the jaunty choruses. There are other OK moments — "You Could Get Lost" charms with bubbling synths and pedal steel drifting over ambling beats — but overall, Streets doesn't play to Newman's considerable strengths, and that's unfortunate.
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