review... Mmm nice., November 9, 2004
paul_a_murphy from Chislehurst, Kent United Kingdom
those of you familiar with Martin Newell's music may find the sound of
this album initially to be a bit of a departure from the usual crisp, janglesome,
guitar-based pop for which Newell is so rightly admired by those who know.
From the cover and the title onwards it looks as if the Wildman Of Wivenhoe
is in easy-listening, casual mode. Certainly there's been a lot of talk
on the Newell website forum (www.martinnewell.co.uk) on the difference
- or not - in musical direction of this album. Has Martin forsaken his
beloved Rock? Has he in fact - gasp!- 'gone jazz'?
What we have here is a classy pop album. Jazzy, sure, for being heavier
on the keyboards than it is on guitar and there's a looser, swinging feel
to the tracks thanks to a wonderful rhythm section. But anyone who enjoyed,
say, 'Straight To You, Boy' on The Greatest Living Englishman will know
that Martin Newell is no stranger to what George Harrison called "the posh
chords": jazzy clusters of notes that can sound by turns sly, smooth or
sentimental, without ever ladling on the syrup. Here, 'Rosebay Railway'
in particular has a beautiful, autumnal feel to it within 10 seconds, 'Synergy'
is a great 'lost' 1920s Tin Pan Alley song, and the breezy shuffle of 'Venus
Of The Essoldo' has a brisk, not-entirely-hidden Berlin cabaret decadence
(albeit closer to home!).
it's classic Newell. It's not for nothing that he has carved out an eminent
parallel career as Britain's most published poet when his song lyrics can
run from touching paeans to a woman getting older and looking all the better
for it (Jacqui), through to an frank, endearing come-on directed at a woman
who looks better with the light off (Blackout). Familiar themes abound
- the seasons, the romance of the railway - and of course the joys/perils
of booze and relationships - all delivered in Newell's distinctive, youthful,
occasionally cocky, but always committed vocal tones.
to Martin Newell's more 'traditional' output, you'll find this album more
of a light programme, indeed - and as such it'll take more than one listen
to grow on you. But as growers go, you'll find its roots go pretty deep
after about the third listen...
By James Christopher Monger,
All Music Guide
Newell returned to the world of music in 2004 as a ock
& roll defector. Light Programme, his fifth collection
of original solo material, is a 13-track tapestry of jazz-pop
filtered through the eyes of a Charles Dickens misfit.
The once heralded The Greatest Living Englishman has cut
his street-preacher hair, thrown on a pair of shades,
slung a sports coat over his shoulder, and created a surprisingly
fun batch of self-penned standards. That's not to say
that it works, but Martin Newell's self-deprecating wit,
magnetic personality, and amiably imperfect voice give
each song a warmth and a wink that would make any listener
want to throw another log on the fire, pour a glass of
brandy, and share in some stimulating conversation with
likeminded freethinkers. Martin Newell's idea of jazz
is far more "When I'm Sixty-Four" than it is "Love Supreme,"
and standout tracks like "Trinity Square," "Grenadine
and Blue," and "Sparkletown" -- the latter owes a great
deal to the Dixie agtime of Good Old Boys-era Randy Newman
-- continue to revel in his lifelong love of the gas-lit
London streets of old, but Martin Newell's become a bit
more cosmopolitan these days, and Light Programme is his
attempt to replace those musty wicks with light bulbs.
Dan BoydenScottsville, Virginia
USA Although I am a Martin Newellite, I did not go
out to buy his new album right away. I am one of those
people who opens gifts slowly, savoring the
surprise and not wanting the joy of the mystery moment
to end too soon. So, I had my missus put it under the
Christmas tree for me. And that might be the problem with
Newell altogether: he writes in an era when, more than
ever, the public (read that, record companies) wants instant
oatmeal sloshed on their plate with tablespoonfuls of
sugar, cinnamon and other teeth-rotting confections. Then
they want to retreat to the lavatory of creative music,
purge in the toilet, and return for the next helping of
Newell's latest music can't be
purged that quickly. It can't be gobbled up like worthless
cotton candy. And it cannot be marketed easily. It confounds
the suits who want the next cardboard cutout to place
in the record store window. With "The Light Programme,"
he's really thrown them for a loop. On the liner notes
to "The Spirit Cage," he claims he does not
play jazz because "I am not good enough." But
here he infuses the music with jazzy overtones. Although
he is a pop-meister unparalleled, his close
cadre of fans was warned about this shift
in style. For the most part, "The Light Programme"
takes a few listens to warm up to, but the first three
tracks grab you right off. "Trinity Square"
is sweet...it could rot your teeth quite easily with its
melody. "Jacqui," on the other hand, is a tear-jerker
for anyone with flowing blood who listens.
I suppose that you could have wrapped
this collection in a plain brown wrapper and not credited
the artist anywhere on the package. Then record companies
would be saying: "Wow, who's this guy?" But
they'd still be looking to categorize it (jazz...light
pop) like they need to do for the marketing mavens. Also,
I suspect that rock critics would say things like "a
departure from the standard Newell canon that doesn't
have the 'pop' of past Newell" and "Newell approaches
middle-age with an identity crisis." You know, they'd
write the standard pabulum they script to make them sound
like authorities who can climb into the mind of the artist,
the way Sister Wendy climbs into the minds of great painters.
But, as Frank Zappa said, "Rock critics are people
who can't write interviewing people who can't talk and
writing it for people who can't read." Zappa was
the quintessential musician for people with a brain, and
Newell, although he doesn't tread on the musical territory
that the late Zappa did,
also makes music for people who think.
"The Light Programme"
is a departure from the standard Newell "formula."
However, it is contradictory to assign a formula
to pop music. Thats what makes it pop music. I mean,
I like The Spirit Cages A Smashing Bird Called
Brenda as much as The Boys of September.
The fact that theyre both on the same album doesn't
throw me for a loop, and I didnt think that Newell
was going ballad-crazy on me or something.
But Newell indicates on his web
site that the new album is not doing well. Thats
a pity. It is also typical fare for him. He distributes
albumsthrough a small record company called Cherry Red,
who doesnt have the clout of Sony. You know, I remember
the trials of XTC when they had their
problems with Virgin records; I thought one of their best
works was the last album they made for Virgin, entitled
Nonsuch. Yet it was not promoted and fared
poorly. Newell knows all too well that the quality of
the art has NOTHING in common with sales. If that were
true, Britney Spears would be
produced by George Martin and be entering her LSD-infused
psychedelic phase; but she aint no Beatles!
If you like variety in your music,
then buy The Light Programme. If you like
melody, then listen to it. And if you, like me, fancy
lyrics as well, then buy it, listen to the songs, and
read the liner notes. His wordplay is great. On the other
hand, if you dont want to open the mind to this
disk, and are looking for edgy guitar pop, then maybe
his next album will work for you. He says he wants to
do a more guitar-oriented, raw-sounding album next time.
Maybe then, more experts will write their
opinions on the work of this underrated writer. Me? Ill
just keep listening.