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The Greatest Living Englishman

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Album Review

As it was produced by XTC's Andy Partridge (who also plays most of the drums), this was Newell's first project to receive any semblance of mainstream media attention in the U.S. What he was presenting, however, differed little in essence from what he'd been doing since Cleaners From Venus started in the early '80s: tuneful pop with heart and clever lyrics that could be joyfully optimistic, whimsically satirical, or dourly cynical. In fact, a few of these songs are remakes of things that Newell had done in the Cleaners days, such as "Home Counties Boy" and the very Kinks-like "A Street Called Prospect" and "Christmas in Suburbia." The production was more in line with state-of-the-art standards, but really the results were no worse or better than on Newell's '80s recordings: less idiosyncratically homespun, perhaps, but more accessible to a wider audience. Playing, as always, like a snapshot of English life, it's the most suitable introduction to Newell's work, not in the least because it's one of his few albums that's reasonably obtainable without a major effort.


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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