The super-group is a rare commodity in today’s musical landscape. Well, let’s rephrase that last statement. Ahem. The successful super-group is a rare commodity in today’s musical landscape, a meeting of like-minded individuals whose talents combine to produce superior sounds that each member could not possibly produce alone.
One band who are worthy of the tag are Canada’s The New Pornographers, whose 2003 album 'Electric Version' made critics drool on their Galaxie 500 t-shirts. Since then, group leader Carl Newman a.k.a AC Newman has elicited similar hipster salival discharge with his 'Slow Wonder' set from last year, while the burgeoning career of flame-haired chanteuse Neko Case has led to critical acclaim for her own solo work, as well as tours alongside the likes of Nick Cave and the Indigo Girls. It's a wonder then that the pair have found time to contribute to another New Pornographers set, a collection that's by far the band's best yet. The fourteen songs on 'Twin Cinema' are packed full of hooks and harmonies, each one refusing to leave your head upon taking residence.
Listeners familiar with the sun-splashed AM radio melodies of the band’s previous work will be pleased to hear that 'Twin Cinema' contains a swag of them. 'Use It' and 'Sing Me Spanish Techno' would be number one singles in an alternate universe, while standout moment 'Jackie, Dressed In Cobras' (a possible sequel to 'Jackie' from 'Mass Romantic) is awash with drum fills, trademark vocal harmonies from Case and Newman, and driven home by a storming piano coda. Elsewhere, Case placates those waiting for her new album (due early 2006) with two trademark performances: 'These Are The Fables', and 'Bones Of An Idol' in which Case once again brings grown men to tears as her voice floats gently upon Newman's wavering slide guitar. When not providing Ry Cooder-esque licks, Newman continues to showcase his skewed lyrical style on the rollicking 'Use It', in which he takes "two sips from the cup of human kindness....and I’m shit-faced, just laid to waste".
What sets 'Twin Cinema' apart from the gropus first two albums is the overwhelming feeling that it’s no longer just Newman and Case who run the show. Each band member’s contribution is just as important the next, and everyone gets the chance to show their wares. Newest member Kathryn Calder, Newman’s niece, adds to the growing number of fine vocalists (whilst simultaneously hammering out a few notes on a Yamaha), while the drumming of Kurt Dahle is more evident this time around. Dan Bejar, whose absence during the band's live shows has led to him being called the band's secret member pens three tracks to rival Newman's best work; the aforementioned 'Jackie, Dressed In Cobras', the glistening 'Streets of Fire' (complete with Graham Greene’s ‘whiskey priest’) and 'Broken Beads', a strange, beguiling glam shanty that’s certainly the weirdest song in New Pornographer history.
It’s almost too cruel to listen to 'Twin Cinema'. Musicians such as Case and Newman would no doubt have had fine careers if they’d never crossed paths. However, hearing them collide with the likes of Bejar and Dahle to create glorious technicolour power-pop makes you wonder whether every other super-group should just list their gear on E-Bay, trade in the leather pants, and call it a day. Damn Canadian bastards.
9Euan McLean's Score