You know how it is when you get a song lyric stuck in your head? It turns your skull into a mental pinball machine, with the lyric violently bouncing from flipper to ramp to bumper and back again. It racks up points as it targets your ability to concentrate and beats your focus to a pulp. Personally, I’ve had Ashford & Simpson’s “Solid” and Robbie Nevil’s “Wot’s It to Ya” in my head on and off since the early ‘80s. For twenty-five years now, the lyric has won. But, what’s new? The lyric always wins.
It truly is a sign of a great melody. More highly contagious than the swine flu, a catchy lyric bombards your body like a virus. But, let’s be honest: it hurts so good. Since the January release of his sophomore solo album, Get Guilty, A.C. Newman (of The New Pornographers) has perfected his role as the Master of Power Pop via his addictive strains…er, refrains…that have officially turned my brain into an arcade game.
Claiming that pop songs “are, in a way, like McDonald’s,” Newman acknowledges that pop music doesn’t always satisfy long term hunger; its lifespan, as perhaps transient as the McRib sandwich, isn’t always as lengthy as other genres. However, he fully embraces the influence that radio has on his songwriting (“it’s been burned into my consciousness” is the exact phrase), and he’s committed to producing songs that are “a little off.” His left-of-center attitude allows his music to be so much more than the Pop du Jour. You’ll soon be asking for super sized helpings.
His stocked selection of sing-alongs from 2004’s Slow Wonder and this year’s Get Guilty are weirdly enigmatic, yet accessible. The lyrics are little puzzles with unconquered meanings. As Newman sings in “There are Maybe Ten or Twelve,” “There are maybe ten or twelve/things I could teach you/after that, well, you’re on your own.” Well, Mr. Newman, alone and lost in a dense forest of inscrutable lyrics has never felt so good. “Make of that what you will.”
Amidst the mostly up-tempo parade of plucky guitar strums, delicate tambourine beats, crashing cymbals, and jangling piano chords, Newman’s infectious lyrics attack listeners again and again. This surely is good mood music. From the comforting chorus of “Come Crash” to the fiery repetition in “The Changeling,” no “Miracle Drug” can remedy The Pinball Virus. In fact, you know, deep down, you really don’t want a cure.
He said it: “I like the songs where I have an emotional connection to them. Those are usually quieter ones. Like I said earlier, on upbeat songs the music becomes more important than the lyrics. On quiet songs, the message has to take over somehow. I don’t know why that is. I do feel there’s that line in my writing recently.”