Colin Newman - A-Z (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Colin Newman

A-Z (1980)

Beggar's Banquet

Wire is perhaps one of the most influential post-punk bands of all time, but frontman Colin Newman's legacy doesn't end there. In addition to his work with other fine band, Githead, he also dropped some mighty fine solo albums in the '80s in between Wire's periods of activity. A-Z, his first solo album, was released just a few months after Wire's seminal 154, and it continues the hot artistic streak Newman had going on in the '70s.

It's not necessarily fair to compare an artist's solo work to his/her main gig, but with Wire and Newman, it's hard not to do so. Wire would break up for long stretches whenever the members felt like trying other things and reunite whenever they felt like it. 154 explored the more ephemeral side of post-punk, and A-Z continues that streak. Of course, Newman's voice guides both albums, whether existing as a whisper on the knockout track "Alone," or returning to his classic punk snarl on cuts like "Order For Order" and "Live on Deck."

Generally speaking, the music has a darker, heavier tone here that what Wire was doing at the time. Granted, when I say that, the record is still on par with what David Bowie and Gary Numan were doing at the time. Opener "I've Waited Ages" piles on layers of guitar noise and TV noise, culminating in a haunting finale. "Live on Deck" has a nightmarish ethereality to it. Even when Newman settles on a single phrase, like on "S-S-S-Star Eyes," he imbues it with such surreal music and performance.

For all the noise, though, it's the quieter songs that leave the bigger impression. "Seconds to Last" is an epic, twisting dreamscape, as is "Image." The best track of the bunch, though, is "Alone." Over a shuffling, assembly line-like drum beat and needling guitar, Newman offers up a list of emotional damages like it's some of journalism beat: "Need strength / But damage accumulates / Still, moving him to tears / Retained a sense of humor." It's the guitar line at the end that really sells this song, a sweeping little chiming composition that offers up some stability in an otherwise loud record. It's such a good hook Newman revisited it for an instrumental piano piece on a single, presented as a bonus track on A-Z's 1988 rerelease.

Getting into Wire is easy: Just buy the first three albums. After that, though, there are all manner of directions and loose ends to pursue. I recommend continuing chronologically and picking up Newman's A-Z.