A.C. Newman songs typically traffic in enigmas and riddles. Over the course of a stellar career made up of ace solo albums like The Slow Wonder and New Pornographer indie classics like Mass Romantic, Newman has detailed the meandering and whimsical nature of life in an ambiguous and whirling framework. What he truly means hasn’t always been so easy and simple to deduce. Listening to Newman is always fun, but rarely easy, as songs like “Drink to Me, Then, Babe”, “35 in the Shade”, and “Submarines of Stockholm” effortlessly breeze by, but leave a myriad of questions in their wake.
In contrast, a more straightforward and earnest Newman appears on Shut Down The Streets, his first album in three years, and this new-found openness is a direct result of a tumultuous time period that saw Newman experience the extreme ends of adulthood. Like most middle-aged men, his life changed quickly and forcefully, as his first child was welcomed into the world around the same time that his mother passed away. This emotional dichotomy is reflected throughout the album as Newman attempts to come to terms with what it all means. He declares his request for time to think and process in “Not Talking”, makes an attempt to offer forth some advice to his offspring with the mid-album stretch of “Money In New Wave” and “Strings”, and plays out an ideal, “shoulda been” farewell in the devastatingly upfront album-closing title track.
Importantly, though, Newman doesn’t attempt to answer questions or pontificate upon the ways and means of growing older. He seems resigned to the fact that life just happens and acknowledges that there are probably better and more graceful ways to handle the responsibilities bestowed upon maturing adults. This attitude keeps the songs from heading down a well-worn saccharine and adult-contemporary path and instead retains the sharp edges and hooks that Newman has banked on in the past. While the subject matter may be more clear and the emotions more raw, he seems to understand that dealing with the resulting aftermath is an ongoing process. Perhaps Newman will use his next few albums as chances to grapple further with these issues of growing older. It would be an interesting and rewarding avenue to explore.