One of the cores of the Canadian supergroup the New Pornographers, A.C. Newman is an artist whose solo material diverges from his group efforts only in terms of scope. While his work with the Pornographers is steeped in varying levels of stylistic flamboyance, Newman scales things back on his own, narrowing the focus to lean songs that thrive solely on hooks and melodies. This is not to say that his solo material is slight or weaker than his output with the band, as 2004’s The Slow Wonder was a perfect distillation of the abilities he’d evidenced with the group: light and airy but never without a propulsive punch. Get Guilty is not as great but it’s 40 minutes of sterling pop, only occasionally tripping over its own lyrical verbosity.
Wordiness is Newman’s only stumbling block. Within the Pornographers oeuvre, this tendency blends in perfectly with the band’s profusion of complicated but catchy elements (elaborate structures, abrupt tempo changes and thickly layered vocals), fitting neatly between Dan Bejar’s arch lyrical constructions and Neko Case’s simple, leavening delivery. Get Guilty features a Case impersonator to counter Newman’s more spirited moments, but its more stripped down feel makes the over-complicated lyrical moments sound more glaring. Newman’s best songs, like the stunning “Miracle Drug” from The Slow Wonder, are free of these kind of complications, viciously catchy by virtue of their simplicity, and there are some songs of this caliber here. Other songs, however, tend to bog down in slow tempos and a piling up of words, clearing space for soaring choruses while they should be deferring to them at all times. In this way, “Young Atlantis” prances around in circles, its momentum further snagged by a pulsing, repetitive organ surge, while “Prophets” builds a complicated lyrical base that never resolves into a satisfying hook.
Yet all of this feels like quibbling when surveying an album that’s still devastatingly charming, consistently intelligent, and engaging on first listen. Except for some missteps, Get Guilty could easily be a singles collection, a slim effort that skips lightly from one perfect pop song to another, its gaps in quality small enough to be easily forgiven. To say that it falls short of Slow Wonder is not as much an insult to the album as a statement of how high a bar Newman has set for himself.