High praise tends to get lost when mentioned late in reviews, so before diving into thoughts concerning A.C. Newmans Shut Down the Streets, something needs to be said. Opening track Im Not Talking” is a sublime example of songwriting that supposedly died off in the late ’60s, maybe early ’70s. It teases twee, but somehow avoids it, eliciting silent sways instead of joyous jumping about via tambourines and clarinets. Dont forget this song. As a matter of fact, go grab it off iTunes right now. Its worth your 99 cents.
A song this great cant help but dilute the overall impact of a record, though, which is what Im Not Talking does to Shut Down the Streets. In a modern world of shuffle and singles, it doesnt necessarily matter, but shouldnt it? A song like Im Not Talking cant make an entire album (in this instance, the LP is merely the answer to What album was that great song on?), but nearly everything else is overshadowed by it. As the record wears on, no matter how many times you listen to it straight through, you wait for a moment that never seems to come…
Until the closing title track. Well get there soon enough.
Newmans songwriting talents come down to the age-old adage of having an ear for pop music. He is the McCartney to Dan Bejars Lennon when they record as New Pornographers (SIDEBAR: though the latter needs to contribute more), and he doesnt try to come across any differently in his solo work. His last album, Get Guilty, had chamber pop in the walls of There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve and triumph in The Heartbreak Rides. On Shut Down, there is equal elation in the promise found in Strings, with plucking of the guitar and heart leading to loving declarations (I can do things for you/ I can do things for you).
Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns is classic Pornographers, no doubt due to Neko Cases always-welcomed harmonies and a big, bountiful chorus that does go twee (but its all good). Case contributes harmonies throughout, including the masterful Im Not Talking (you may recall that song briefly alluded to earlier in this review). Its not all sunshine, though, as dark ruminations drift through the music of You Had To Be There, with its debate: Is it too much to lose/ Or too little left to live for?.
Shut Down the Streets‘ lesser tracks suffer not only by comparison, but in quality. Do Your Own Time sleepwalks through a repetitive acoustic strum, while You Could Get Lost does the same at a slower tempo. Troubadour has dreamy production to its credit, but a dull chorus (Stop me at the door/ Too late to be what you were just before). Money in New Wave falls somewhere between that void of pacing found in Do Your Own Time and You Could Get Lost. These lows get buried by those opening and closing highs.
And what of that closing number? The album’s title track is about the passing of Newmans mother. The vocals arent as pronounced as they can be in many of Newmans compositions; here he sounds like his mind is elsewhere:
They should have shut down all the streets
Presidents and kings should’ve been there
With not a single empty seat
All the schools closed”
Its as relatable a song as Newmans ever written — a track for anyone who has ever lost someone close. How does the world go on when our worlds stop? Its handled with no bombast, no schmaltz, and it carries itself well.
Shut Down the Streets is a strange beast and one that will fall victim to that option that destroys the album sequence as we know it: shuffle. Fortunately, the high points are so high that they warrant a listen, even a purchase of the record as a whole. And did I mention how outstanding Im Not Talking is? No? Well, that song…
Essential Tracks: Im Not Talking, Strings, and Shut Down the Streets.