Chalk one up to unreal expectations, I suppose. After hearing older work by Mr. Newman's late and great Zumpano and after the pretty much awe-inspiring work with The New Pornographers, I guess I was expecting something slightly different with a solo album. It's not that The Slow Wonder is a bummer by any means, because it's not. It's simply not riding quite the same giddy highs as work by his previous groups. Heck, there are still enough hooks on the release to get stuck in your head for days, but there's just something about it that doesn't work quite as well.
Perhaps the biggest problem is with me. Maybe I was expecting it to be as immediately accessible and even though it's only 11 tracks and 33 minutes of music it takes a smidge more than that to get your head around it. Not every song is bursting with 10 layers of melodic nirvana, and while several tracks feel like they could basicallly be New Pornographers b-sides, there are a couple things that just don't quite stand up as well. Things start out on a great note, though, bursting out of the gate with the power-pop of "Miracle Drug" and the strummy "Drink To Me, Babe, Then," a jaunty and awkward track that somehow works amazingly.
"On The Table" is one of those tracks that could very well pass as a track with his most recent group (mostly because it's also one of the most dense in terms of instrumentation), and although it's one of the longer tracks on the release it also stands out as one of the best. Mixing lush piano and guitar, the track feels a touch more lo-fi than anything else on the release and also incorporates some female vocal harmonies with Newman. It's no Neko Case, but surprisingly close, and the no-holds-barred ending with rollicking piano is a real blast.
In other places, as on the simple "Most Of Us Prizefighters," the album just feels like it's treading water. Newman no doubt has a knack for vocal melodies, but sometimes tracks just don't quite stand up as well. The aforementioned track, as well as the over-reverbed "Better Than Most" slightly miss the mark and on a short album stick out more than they should. "The Battle For Straight Time" is another NP-esque track and it blows out the middle section of the release with some serious rocking hooks. All of the above said, though, this is hardly a bad album and if you're a fan of any previous work by Newman, you'll no doubt find plenty to love.