A-Z (1980), Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish (1981), Not To (1982)
Colin Newman is best known as singer and chief songwriter with the ground breaking post-punk band WIRE. From their internationally influential 1977 debut Pink Flag right up to 2016’s critical acclaimed Nocturnal Koreans, Newman and Wire have always been at music’s cutting edge. These are his first three solo albums that have been remastered, include a second album of extra tracks, B-sides & demos – many of which have never been released before.
Starting with A-Z, his first and best solo album, which is thought of as a lost Wire album, the added synthesizer gives the album a bit of a different sound, and gives the songs a nice push to make it its own beast. The music is darker, heavier and has a dance beat on some tracks that brings so much to the table. The album sounds of its time, experimental, but still accessible and catchy enough to grab your ears and actually get you moving. A-Z picks up exactly where Wire’s classic first three albums left off, mixing slanted lyrics, fizzing analogue synths and Newman’s trademark angular guitar work. Some of the highlights include the terrific album opener “I’ve Waited Ages,” which features great bass, heavily distorted guitar, and bizarre lyrics which all add up to making a track that I played over and over again. “S-S-S-Star Eyes” is a catchy song that seems to be just one note, mixed with numerous counter melodies. “Order For Order” sounds like an amalgam of everything Wire had been recording up to this point. Elsewhere, the melancholic and brooding “Alone” earned a well-deserved place on the Silence of the Lambs soundtrack. The CD only bonus disc includes an additional seventeen tracks and only four have previously been released. The demos recorded at Riverside Studios offer startlingly different takes on the material. The treats on here are plenty, seeing where the songs came from and then the finished product takes it to a different place.
Second solo album Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish is a completely instrumental album with Newman playing all of the instruments. Think of a soundtrack album looking for a movie, kind of like Brian Eno and his Music For Films album. The songs are experimental and nothing that would be considered a single, but very moody, and fascinating at the same time. The songs on here give the listener an idea of what was in his head and what feeling at the time. The CD only bonus disc has an additional twenty tracks, only five of which have previously been released. There’s a number of vocal versions of the tracks, and Newman’s home recordings from the era, show us that aside from experimenting with music, he was also developing a set of vocal songs, such as “Is It Worth Repeating?,” “Crystal Clear,” and “Vox Pop.”
Ending with Not To, which brings back a band and into traditional songs, Not To sees the sound becoming much sparser. Some of the tracks are songs that Wire had been playing in 1980, including “Safe,” “We Meet Under Tables,” and “You, Me and Happy.” He also includes a cover of “Blue Jay Way” by The Beatles. The album gives the listener what they wanted, strong songs, melody and an album that has held up remarkably well after all of these years. The additional disc presents the single “We Means We Starts” alongside twenty-one previously unreleased songs.
As you can see, the man was doing his best to push forward music with the creativity and prolific nature that he showed at the time. The climate was still ripe with ideas to plunder, risks to take and turn it into music that has influenced not just his own songs, but the music for generations past, and to come. This is a more than welcome addition to your collection and needs to be heard by everyone who has picked up a guitar for the past thirty-five years.