Colin Newman

A-Z

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Though it doesn't quite have the all-encompassing range of the connotative title, Colin Newman's first solo record features the wildly imaginative streak that makes Wire's first three records so endlessly exciting. In fact, A-Z was supposed to be his band's fourth record, but their label saw things differently. With Wire drummer Robert Gotobed on board and associate/producer Mike Thorne lending his keyboard skills, it doesn't sound far removed from an early Wire record at all. The absence of Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis doesn't impair Newman in the least. Guitars seem to take on a decreased role, with synths and keyboards driving some of the more accessible songs ("Order for Order," "Life on Deck"). The moody, almost dour "maximal minimalist" nature of 154 is built upon in the likes of "Alone" (surprisingly heard later in The Silence of the Lambs), and "Image" begins as a pleasant, ambient Brian Eno homage until breaking into a morbid chant and retreating back again into Enoland. The excellent production leaves many of the instruments hardly distinguishable from each other. Newman is in top form vocally. His ambiguity hits a peak here (he's frequently hilarious, as usual), and he even admitted that the words were simply nonsense, just noise. A-Z's insular, cloistered nature gives the feel of a 3,000 piece puzzle with no jagged edges to be found -- everything seems obtuse and ovular. That said, it takes some deep listening to get a grip on. It might not be a Wire record in name, but A-Z truly deserves to be held in the same regard as Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154. It might be really warped and utterly confusing at times, but it's riveting throughout. The CD version adds five tracks, most of them being very worthwhile.

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