Shut Down the Streets by A.C. Newman (Matador Records, 2012. 40 minutes)
A.C. Newman is a Canadian singer-songwriter. After contributing as a band member of Superconductor and Zumpano, Newman currently leads The New Pornographers. He launched his solo career in 2004.
When I was in a band, a solo project always sat in the back of my mind. Going solo offers unique creative opportunities compared to a collaborative band setting. Compositional and lyrics choices are yours alone. Truthfully, most solo projects should never find the light of day because collaborative band settings function as an editing process. Most band members keep each other from making major musical mistakes. But, a rare few hold the talent to do it all. These people are the best singer-songwriters, and occasionally, they blossom from band member to solo star.
Sometimes, however, the singer-songwriter is the band. When they go solo, not much changes. A.C. Newman’s Shut Down the Streets resides in this final category.
Love and Loss
At its core, Shut Down the Streets thematically seeks to find the balance between life and death. In fact, Newman dedicates the album to his recently passed mother in the liner notes.
In the infectiously melodic opener, “I’m Not Talking,” Newman sets the stage with introspective lyrics on loss:
“No one wants to weigh things down, but they tend to fly away / And rescue teams will look for days / I like the way things are, I say abandon the search, for an author of small work”
Even though he references something missing, the agency of the lyricist offers an interesting contrast. When Newman proclaims in the chorus, “I’m not talking,” the response to tragedy is a reminder of life.
Additionally, “They Should Have Shut Down the Streets” touches on loss in an even more emotive way.
“They should have shut down all the streets / Presidents and kings should have been there / With not a single empty seat / All the schools closed and the roads we drove down all lined / Lined with people cap in hand and crying / That went on for miles and miles and miles”
Through minor notes, Newman’s lyrics convey the suffering of the subject. Presumably, Newman believes the loss of his mother is worthy of the world collectively mourning.
Where’s the Solo Sound?
Even though the thematic elements of Shut Down the Streets are touching, this album closely resembles the sound of Newman’s band, The New Pornographers.
Sonically, the elements are the same—full-strummed guitars, a tendency toward “na-na-na,” and the sultry harmonies of fellow New Pornographer, Neko Case. The instruments are similar, although I might argue that Newman’s solo work is sparser.
Lyrically, the serious tone of Newman’s solo work would fit nicely on his collaborative work.
In sum, Newman, as the principle songwriter behind both projects, writes the same songs. Of course, the economic factor matters. The percentage of money Newman receives from a New Pornographers record is conceivably much different than his solo work, but I find it curious that Newman doesn’t attempt a stark departure in his solo work.
The solo album presents an opportunity for an artist to find a new creative outlet, to experiment outside of a band’s branded sound. A.C. Newman has decided against this opportunity. Shut Down the Streets is an excellent, catchy, and verdant album. It’s well worth your time. But I wonder why Newman takes a conservative route; he has the talent and creativity to write so much more!
Verdict: 4 out of 5