Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Colin Newman - A-Z

Colin Newman
A-Z


Released 1980 on Beggars Banquet
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 05/06/2007ce


1.I’ve Waited Ages (5:05)
2.& Jury (2:47)
3.Alone (3:57)
4.Order for Order (2:44)
5.Image (4:18)
6.Life on Deck (3:12)
7.Troisieme (4:09)
8.S-S-S-Star Eyes (2:10)
9.Seconds to Last (7:08)
10.Inventory (2:11)
11.But No (3:06)
12.B (2:59)
13.The Classic Remains (3:52)
14.Alone on Piano (1:56)
15.This Picture (3:31)
16.Not Me (2:39)
17.Don’t Bring Reminders (2:22)

produced by MIKE THORNE, except 15-17 by COLIN NEWMAN

Reissue BBL 20 CD from 1988 with bonus tracks 13 – 15 from the B and Inventory singles and tracks 16 and 17 from the original demonstration recordings for A-Z.

All songs by newman, apart from track 2 by simmons/newman and track 3 by lewis/newman.

Colin Newman, Desmond Simmons, Robert Gotobed, Mike Thorne with Billy Bagg (clarinet on track 7).

(1)

One of the last things Colin Newman sings on 154 by Wire is “I never know which version I’m going to be…”, while his last contribution to that album ‘Once is Enough’ sounds like a band falling apart. Which might explain the directions pursued in Document & Eyewitness, the Dadaist performance that concluded the first version of the band whose name was Wire.

(5)

Despite the fact Wire had released the most significant trilogy of records in the era some call punk, others call post-punk, they were drifting between experimental and pop music. This explains the appeal of those records, but didn’t work in their favour at the time, whether supporting a Manifesto-era Roxy Music, deciding against releasing ‘The 15th’ as a single, the people at EMI deciding to go with someone like Duran Duran, or the fact Gilbert, Lewis, and Newman were composing songs separately for the most part. & was ‘Map Ref. 41 N 93 W’ really a hit single? Last year in Marienbad, maybe…

(4)
Newman had always contributed some words, tracks like ‘Feeling Called Love’ and one of Wire’s key moments ‘Heartbeat’ – though Gilbert and Lewis would dominate the words on Chairs Missing, as Newman created the melody. By the time 154 is reached, the band were recording, as well as writing, apart. Some members weren’t present on all of the tracks, I’m pretty sure Lewis isn’t on ‘The 15th’, while Newman appears to be absent from the Gilbert-penned ‘A Touching Display’ (the song that appears to have that guitar sound that would recur on ‘Something’s Gone Wrong Again’ by The Buzzcocks, another 1979 song, and the following year’s ‘A Forest’ by The Cure. Lewis’ vocals sound a bit like Mr Cope too!). Newman last Wire songs included lines like “providing/deciding” and “an evening of fun in the metropolis of your dream.” There would be more, it appears that Newman had material left over from the Harvest trilogy, the material surfacing on A-Z (1980) and his third solo album not to (1982).

A-

Following Document and Eyewitness, the first Wire ended and other directions were pursued by the members of Wire. Sometimes on the same record. Gilbert and Lewis produced and played on two tracks on Burning Blue Soul by Matt Johnson, as they pursued their Dome-project, and produced Desmond Simmons, who played on A-Z, which featured the producer of the Harvest-trilogy Mike Thorne, as well as Wire drummer Robert Gotobed. A-Z is kind of the fourth Wire album, except it isn’t, though it’s probably closer to the initial triad than later albums such as The Ideal Copy or Manscape. Wire, first, second, or third phase, do make more sense if you listen to the stuff between Wire records, whether A.C. Marias, A-Z, Dome, This Way to the Shivering Man, He Said, or the joys of Newman’s Swim roster (Immersion, partner Malka Spigel). A-Z is partly a relative of 154 material like ‘The 15th’, partly the relative of second age Wire (‘Kidney Bingos’), and partly the relative of the latest release by Githead.

There were six reasons I purchased A-Z: (1) ‘Alone’, (2) Colin Newman, (3) Robert Gotobed, (4) Mike Thorne, (5) Lewis co-writing credit, and (6) ‘Not Me.’ Reason 2 is always interesting, even got me interested enough to buy a Virgin Prunes album. Reason 3 suggests that this is at least half a Wire record, and Mr Gotobed was a king when he decided he was no longer needed and Wire became Wir. Reason 4 is due to those first three Wire albums and Mr Thorne’s input. Reasons 1 and 6 are related, both tracks covered by the 4AD collective This Mortal Coil, a version of ‘Not Me’ turning up on 1984’s It’ll End in Tears a few years before it would turn up on this reissue (Robin Guthrie plays some nice guitar on that, while the singer does a good impersonation of Newman). ‘Alone’ would get the TMC-treatment on the overlong follow-up Filigree and Shadow (1986), placing Lewis & Newman’s composition alongside cover versions of songs by Tim Buckley, Gene Clark, Talking Heads, and Van Morrison. ‘Alone’ would probably be a double-reason, not having heard the original, I was bowled over by a song that featured briefly in Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs. Demme must be a bit of a post-punk type, or have a theory that serial killers have great taste in music, when they probably listen to wank like Cannibal Corpse, Hue and Cry, and Skinny Puppy instead. The famous ‘fava beans/nice Chianti’ line has a pay-off from ‘Psycho Killer’, while the climax has The Fall’s ‘Hip Priest’ playing in the background. One song, which briefly featured, hypnotised me, seeming both familiar and unfamiliar: it sounded like Wire, but wasn’t a song on any of the Wire records I had (which was all of them up to ‘Manscape’); while I knew the song itself, from that This Mortal Coil record. The version of ‘Alone on Piano’ is very cute, even if it did remind me of when Gary Numan did Satie and ‘Down in the Park’ on a b-side.

‘Not Me’ would fit well into a Wire-plays-Pop continuum or playlist that would also include: Three Girl Rhumba, Strange, Feeling Called Love, I am the Fly, Dot Dash, Outdoor Miner, The 15th, Map Ref, Not Me, Ahead, “A Serious of Snakes”, It’s a Boy, Kidney Bingos, Eardrum Buzz, Stampede, So and Slow It Grows…"Between the surface you and the surface me" is one of the greatest lyrics. All in the delivery, it could have been called 'The 16th.'

A lot of the punky Pink Flag style material went sideways and all over the place on the second and third albums, so it’s nice that it makes a minor return on A-Z. ‘Life on Deck’ has some wonderfully annoying vocals Newman gibbering and shouting, while ‘S-S-S-Star Eyes’ contains some of the greatest repetition. Bonus track ‘Don’t Bring Reminders’ feels like a relative of Pink Flag or Spiral Scratch, though seems to shift towards those second and third Wire albums as it continues. Newman would revisit it on 1982’s not to. “We want to see what’s left of you…”

Opening tracks ‘I’ve Waited for Ages’ and ‘& Jury’ sound like the next step on from ‘On Returning’…which I guess they were! (second single ‘Inventory’ is very ‘On Returning’ too). ‘Order for Order’, like ‘Alone’ showcases more of Thorne’s keyboards, which while a feature of those Wire records, wasn’t the focus – here the central motif seems to anticipate Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass. I may be saying this as I watched that the other day though…

‘Image’ feels like a return to the fractal climes of ‘French Film Blurred’ and the intro to ‘Practice Makes Perfect’, while ‘Troisieme’ sounds like Newman deciding what version he wants to be. & then changing his mind, and then changing his mind…all with the hypnotic “Rejoinder/Rejoinder” refrain. There are some unexpected directions too, the idea that Newman wasn’t into the epic climes of ‘A Touching Display’ is countered with the 7-minute plus ‘Seconds to Last’, it feels like a relative before charting directions that would now be tagged post or math rock. Even stranger is the single ‘B’, which doesn’t feature any lyrics and sounds like Beefheart working over Associates during their Fourth Drawer Down period.

A-Z is one of those albums you never see. One of those records Josef Ferdinand probably don’t name check. A-Z feels like a companion to Pete Shelley's Homosapien and is probably the record Howard Devoto should have made instead of Jerky Versions of the Dream. A-Z is probably the best album between the first and second phases of Wire and will probably appeal more to those that liked the material of the first phase and were less enamoured with the sequencer driven approach of the second phase on Mute. A definite Unsung contender, located somewhere between experimental and pop and between Wire and Wire. The place to go after 154…

Z


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