Fans of the New Pornographers may not recognize the band's redheaded front man, but Carl Newman's hooks are instantly familiar—even if under the layers of sugar, they turn out to be baby brothers to the Zombies, Jeff Lynne, Neil Finn and Todd Rundgren. But Newman's always been proud to wear an influence on his sleeve—his old band Zumpano was covering Jimmy Webb's "Rosecrans Boulevard" nearly 10 years ago, for chrissake—and with The Slow Wonder, he pulls off a solo album that not only synthesizes his previous work, but also often manages to sound even better. Songs such as "Come Crash" and "Drink to Me, Babe, Then" are stripped of the New Pornographers' polish, giving Newman's brilliant melodies some room to breathe. His trademark harmonies are still present (with a Neko Case sound-alike, no less) but profit from being paired with only some lightly strummed chords and a subtle riff. For those of you who want an endless string of Mass Romantics, there are a few shit-hot rockers as well, and as with most of his releases, Newman likes his hooks more than you will sometimes. "Most of Us Prizefighters" and "Better Than Most" are repetitive to the point of filler, but those are exceptions: A.C. Newman is far from being out of ideas; he just doesn't like to let a good thing go.
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