The New Pornographers have been referred to as a supergroup, but there’s two reasons I don’t want to use that term to describe them. 1) The term “supergroup” is used to describe bands like Damn Yankees, which is reason enough to want dismiss the term entirely. Fuck Damn Yankees and especially fuck Ted Nugent. And 2) The New Pornos are really a collection of disparate singer-songwriters with a shared, quirky pop sensibility. The triumvirate of A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar (a.k.a. “Destroyer”) and Neko Case craft pop songs that have, for me at least, defined everything pop music can and should be in this young century (no hyperbole, kids – check out Mass Romantic if you’re in doubt. Does your favorite pop band do anything as awesome as “The Slow Descent into Alcoholism”? The answer is only “yes” if your favorite pop band is The New Pornographers). Case and Bejar make solo albums that are quite a bit different from the New Pornos sound; Bejar’s meander to the point of being occasionally annoying and Case’s are ethereal and beautiful with a folkier bent than one finds on New Pornographers discs.
Fans of A.C. Newman’s earlier solo album, The Slow Wonder, will probably agree that Newman’s solo offerings are the closest sonic relatives to the New Pornographers and they’ll probably argue that it’s not a bad thing. Newman is the poppiest Pornographer, owing a heavy debt to the Beatles (who doesn’t?) and The Kinks. So it’s tempting to dismiss Newman’s new album, Get Guilty, as Diet New Pornographers, Newman having replaced Bejar and Case with Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, better known as Mates of State.
I’m not prepared to make that dismissal at this point …um… at least not entirely. Get Guilty is a pleasure, entirely listenable from start to finish (which is more than I can say for Bejar’s Destroyer albums, which I can never get into), but listening to it, I can’t help wishing that there was a new New Pornographers album for me to enjoy. Get Guilty is strummy, sprawling pop, and it’s often excellent (especially on opener “There are Maybe Ten or Twelve…”, “Prophets,” and “The Changeling”, which has the title and titular line on Get Guilty). It’s more acoustic than your typical New Pornographers album, allowing Newman to spread the melodies out a little more, luring you from hyper-melodic verse to more-hyper-melodic chorus (this is Newman’s best contribution to the New Pornographers as well; the dude positively relishes a chorus, and few people write them like he does), as on “The Palace at 4AM”.
There are a few points where Get Guilty drags, however, and those are the points where I feel the album could benefit from a soaring vocal line from Neko Case or a vintage Bowie-ism from Dan Bejar. “Submarines of Stockholm” is a perfect example. The song is ridiculous and feels like an inside joke (“Few have the luxury of b-sides,” Newman sings, “but I do, I’ve got buckets full”), and it’s full of lines that Bejar could improve with his girlish falsetto. I don’t think I’ll ever write a sentence like that again as long as I live. People who have heard “Myriad Harbour” understand what I’m getting at here.
But look – I can’t judge A.C. Newman’s solo stuff against Mass Romantic or Twin Cinema anymore than I could judge Franz Nicolay against Stay Positive. Right? Wrong! Franz Nicolay’s solo album sounds nothing like a Hold Steady album while Get Guilty sounds like a New Pornographers album by any other name. So, if the shoe fits, as they say, throw it at George W. Bush.
Get Guilty has some clever lines, like “There are maybe ten or twelve/ things I could teach you/ after that, well, you’re on your own/ and that wasn’t the opening line/ it was the tenth or the twelfth one/ make of that what you will” and pretty much all of “Prophets”, and Newman sings them beautifully (he is pretty underrated as a singer) and I realize I’m wavering a lot on this album, perhaps slowly backing my way into recommending it, but what do you want from me? It’s not awful and it’s not Mass Romantic, which is one of the best albums I’ve ever fucking heard, but Newman is largely responsible for both albums.
So here: if you only want to experience A.C. Newman on one album and be done with it, I urge you to pick up The New Pornographers’ Mass Romantic. If you already love and own all the New Pornos discs (as I do, even Challengers, which may have been 2007’s most criminally underrated album. Everyone was pissed because it had slow songs on it; nevermind that they were fucking gorgeous. The critics dubbed The New Pornographers “power-pop” and got mad when they made pretty pop. But I, as usual, digress), Get Guilty will tide you over until the next New Pornographers album, or at least until Neko Case drops Middle Cyclone next month.