Colin Newman - A-Z - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Colin Newman - A-Z

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2016-10-28

There really is nothing quite like Wire’s first three albums. They were simply groundbreaking. Experimental, yet adversely, no nonsense. They were the quintessential Art School Punk band. In terms of the English Post Punk movement, they were right on the cutting edge along with PIL, The Fall and Joy Division. They made Pop Music out of the Avant Garde and the Avant Garde out of Pop Music. And while I’ve enjoyed later albums like, An Ideal Copy, it will never beat the trilogy of Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154. And I confess, I really didn’t seek out much beyond that. Every band has their time. And that was Wire’s time. Whoever thought playing in a band was about longevity? Or making a long career out of it? It was about making Music and being passionate about it. And Wire were. And still are.

Unbeknownst to me, when Wire took a hiatus, Colin Newman embarked on a solo career in 1980. By the time Wire reconvened in 1984, he'd released a total of three solo albums. The blistering A-Z . Provisionally Entitled the Singing Fish (an all instrumental album whose tracks were all named after fish). A whimsically entitled work to be sure. One I hope I never have to sit through. The third, Not To, featured material Newman had originally composed for Wire.

This 2-disc compilation features A-Z and a collection of demos. The brilliant A-Z veers from the experimental to perversely skewed Pop. The opener “I’ve Walked Ages” greets you with a buzz saw guitar and Newman drawling his lyrics with all the sarcasm and sneer of a young Tom Verlaine. It’s a wicked start to a quirky, pissed off and ultimately underrated album. An album that really doesn’t want to be liked, yet, despite all the Sturm und Drang, manages to be completely addictive.

Sounding like a cross between Television and PIL, “& Jury” could have been a hit. Newman’s vocals reminding me of Mick Jones of the Clash. Elsewhere, on the diabolically infectious, ‘Alone’, he croons “retain a sense of humor.” Fans of Silence of the Lambs might recognize it in the scene where Buffalo Bill is sewing in his basement. The song was later covered by This Mortal Coil on Filigree and Shadow.

Most of A-Z is just as good as anything from 154, yet far more discontent. Things get a bit too experimental for their own good in ‘Image’. Its compelling at times but ultimately slows the momentum of the album down to an unfocused crawl. Things get back on track with the furiously unhinged, ‘Life On Deck’, Newman sounding positively deranged, exercising more than a few demons. ‘Troisiéme’ finds Newman in ill temper and out to agitate. It might be the album’s most obstinate and intentionally annoying track. In comparison ‘S-S-Star Eyes’ finds Newman still in a rotten mood but is defiantly catchy as hell.

 ‘Seconds To Last’ is sparse, morose and ominous. It’s also the longest track and while it is most certainly compelling, eventually outstays it welcome. The rest of the album finds Newman in a tortured and ornery mood, but the songs retain a twisted Pop sensibility. The ferocious ‘But No’ is an album highlight, while ‘B’ finds Newman emitting guttural yowls in what could easily be Synth Pop if it weren’t more than a touch too manic. It sounds like really pissed off early Depeche Mode on speed.

As always, reissues come with extras. Which of course includes demos. Some of which I prefer to their released counterparts. Among the gems are ‘Don’t Bring Reminders’. And ‘Alone at Piano’ is just that. A beautiful instrumental piece, providing some solace in an album characterized by complete and utter discord.

A-Z  is a must for Wire fans and fills in the gaps nicely between their break and reformation. It also serves to highlight what a restless and innovative talent Colin Newman was and continues to be. And while his solo career may not have brought him commercial or mainstream success, one listen, and it’s pretty clear that wasn’t on his agenda. He had to let these hens out because they were on fire. All I can say is, it’s nice to hear what I’ve been missing out on all these years.

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