Colin Newman - A-Z/provisionally entitled the singing fish/ Not To album review

Forget Chairs Missing – where did the melodies go on Colin Newman's reissued debut?

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Wire’s development over the course of their first three albums (between 1977 and ’79) was stunning. Describing an upward trajectory from Pink Flag’s savant simplicity through the minimalist art-pop sophistication of Chairs Missing to the post-punk blueprint of 154, the quartet were originally misidentified as mere punks, then lauded as a dressed-down Roxy Music for the arch and impatient. Unsurprisingly then, upon their split in 1980, much was expected of their guitarist, vocalist and songwriting frontman, Colin Newman.

You’ll smirk to I’ve Waited Ages, but long for I Am The Fly.

There was little surprise when his first solo album mirrored the far-reaching ambition of Wire, even A-Z’s title promised an unattainable breadth of vision, yet while Newman reached high, his artistry couldn’t help but hobble his commercial potential. It could pass for a fourth Wire album, but the immediacy and accessibility of Chairs Missing’s apparently instinctive melodic pop possibilities were replaced by an obtuse compulsion to produce smart and urbane compositions far more suited to appreciative critics. In many ways A-Z is a triumph, but while you nod appreciatively at the indomitable one-note swagger of I’ve Waited Ages and smirked along with the beyond cut-up nonsensical nature of the lyrics, a small and unpretentious part of you is invariably longing for I Am The Fly. A-Z could do better – Newman was resolute in his dismissal of pop, leaving what could have been one of its best tracks unreleased. Now available on a disc two of extras, Not Me remained in demo form until rescued by This Mortal Coil and covered on It’ll End In Tears.

Tragically, provisionally entitled the singing fish is exactly as good an album as its title suggests. A product of its Peel-encouraged times its dozen instrumental tracks are named Fish 1 through Fish 12 and, well, they ain’t great, sounding for all the world like a man trying a brand new drum machine/portastudio combo for size before actually settling down to write anything. The good news is that its extra disc of unreleased tracks have actual songs here and while they’re not exactly chartbusters, they are at least, songs.

Not To sounds like more of PETSF’s demos; its extra demo disc even more so. All here sound like sketches, you feel that in the right hands (Wire’s) they could have blossomed into so much more. By its extraordinarily uninspired, utterly joyless closing cover of Blue Jay Way, Newman sounds like a man desperate for the company of his former collaborators.

Spoiler alert: Newman returned to Wire in splendour, they’re still together and on the right night, unassailable.

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