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A Summer Tamarind

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Album Review

Martin Newell's virtues are so dependable that by the time of this 2007 release, even longtime fans were likely taking them for granted. They include an almost unfailing sense of pleasing pop/rock melody, and a distinctly British flair to his tunes and words that sets this apart (and thankfully so) from more power pop and retro-by-numbers acts that look toward classic '60s and '70s music for inspiration. Those strengths are intact on A Summer Tamarind, but if there's any difference between this and his many previous releases, it's that he's become more somber with age. Not that this is gloomy by any means, or that it's a drawback, but there's nothing of the smart-aleck, at times vicious comic flavor of much of his earlier stuff, though his wit is intact. The cheerfulness of much of his early work hasn't exactly disappeared, but it's certainly muted. Instead there's a sort of measured and occasionally nostalgic reflection befitting a man who's growing into middle age gracefully, even as his love of classic pop/rock remains undimmed. His love of English small town life and disappointment in the disappearance of some of its charms is also reflected in songs like "Mulberry Harbour." "Wow! Look at That Old Man" is, for anyone who knows anything about his eccentric life, an obvious self-portrait of an old-timer who's still "rock and rolling when he should be quietly bowling." Despite the odd bouncy tune like "Stella and Charlie Got Married," the tone of the album is low-key, and sometimes even folky. Maybe it's too low-key to rank among his most striking material, but he continues to supply almost textbook examples of how to craft satisfying, personal guitar-oriented indie rock that's compassionate and sharply observational without falling prey to unbecoming sentimentality.


Born: 1953 in Wivenhoe, Essex, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

One of the great eccentrics of modern English pop/rock, Martin Newell's songs are recommended listening for anyone who enjoys the peculiarly British eccentricities of Ray Davies, Andy Partridge, Syd Barrett, and the like. His grasp of the pop hook was second to few throughout the 1980s and '90s; his arrangements favor a guitar jangle but are usually infused with a whimsical eclecticism full of goofy sound effects and unusual garnishes of unexpected percussion and string instruments. His voice is...
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A Summer Tamarind, Martin Newell
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