A.C. Newman is Carl Newman. You may know him as the main dude in underrated pop heroes Zumpano; you may know him as the leader of the justly-rated New Pornographers; you may even remember him as the lead screamer in the very weird heavy rock band Superconductor. Either way, his name on a project is like the "Indie Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval." This is his first solo record and it delivers all the things one has come to expect and rejoice in from Newman. Things like witty, engaging songcraft that is full of surprises and exciting twists and turns, expertly produced and arranged songs, his perfect rock & roll voice, songs with big, fat hooks that call to mind power pop legends like the Raspberries, Redd Kross, and the Kinks, or plain old legends like Elton John, Harry Nilsson, or Todd Rundgren; songs that make you want to hit repeat as soon as the disc is over. Slow Wonder is undoubtedly Newman's most personal disc, not a shock given the format. Many of the lyrics have an intimate feel and there is also a wider range of emotions than on a New Pornographers' disc; some anger on "Town Halo," bitterness on "Better Than Most," and weariness on the aching "Drink to Me, Babe, Then." It also features some new instrumental textures like sawing cellos on "Town Halo," acoustic guitars and gritty slide work on "Drink to Me, Babe, Then," electronic percussion on "Most of Us Prizefighters," and autumnal chamber pop strings and horns on the utterly beautiful "Come Crash." Having made the case for how different this record is from his other work, now let it be said that the record is very much like his other work. Maybe even better. It certainly contains some of his catchiest, most exuberant songs like the crashing opener "Miracle Drug," "On the Table," "The Battle for Straight Time," and the jittery "35 in the Shade." The presence of the sunny, new wave-ish gem "Secretarial" is enough to make Slow Wonder essential. Sara Wheeler is a perfectly perfect replacement for Neko Case. The production by John Collins, David Carswell, and Newman himself is flawless, sleek, and modern, but still warm and organic. It all adds up to one whale of a good record that fits in well with all his work leading up to it. In fact, barring the late arrival of another New Pornographers record, this is probably the best indie rock/pop record of 2004. Carl Newman deserves every last bit of praise thrown his way. In a better world, he would be our Elton, our Todd, our McCartney, and Slow Wonder would be on everyone's iPod, rotating on M2 hourly, and his name would be on the lips of everyone from aged Royalty to teen-aged girls. Hmm, don't hold your breath, just sing along and be glad you discovered him.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra