1980, Music

A-Z (1980) by Colin Newman

One of the things I find fascinating about musicians is when a frontman or primary songwriter or leader of a major band goes out and makes a solo record…which sounds exactly like their band, or close enough. It’s like, what was getting in your way in the band that made you think you couldn’t make this record with them? Yes, there are albums from these people that don’t sound like their band but, in my experience more often they sound similar enough to their band’s music (and often include guest appearances from some band members). This is definitely one of those records as it sounds a hell of a lot like a lesser Chairs Missing or 154 (depending upon the song).

Now, in this case, the band had broken up. So it’s a lot more sensible for Newman to just keep making the music he was making, with a member of Wire. Though Newman is the primary songwriter for Wire – if you can say the band has one – it’s pretty clear that the process that produced their songs was different. Whether it’s other member’s best songs pushed out Newman’s lesser material, or whether the members curated Newman’s material, it’s clear that this is a bit more of a song dump. At times, the songs rival Wire’s but, at other times, they definitely don’t.

But the arrangements are as inventive s you’d expect from a member of one of the most interesting bands of their era. And, at least in this regard, it does feel like it’s on the level with what his band’s output might have been had they stayed together. For the me, the arrangements are the highlight and they elevate the material that isn’t always up to snuff.

And it still sounds good. Like all of Wire’s music from back then, they managed to figure out how to record contemporary musical sounds in way that doesn’t sound horribly dated 40 years later. That’s true here. Sure, it sounds “’80s” but nothing compared to most contemporary music. Mike Thorne knew what he was doing.

So it’s a little bit like listening to Wire with less great songs. Which is definitely okay by me, given that Wire are very close to my favourite British post punk (if they aren’t outright).

8/10

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