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The Light Programme

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Album Review

As a self-made English eccentric and the most published contemporary poet in the country, Martin Newell has earned himself his pop knighthood through sheer tenacity. Never one to sit still and wait for the world to happen to him — he once did an entire tour on bicycle — Newell returned to the world of music in 2004 as a rock & roll defector. Light Programme, his fifth collection of original solo material, is a 13-track tapestry of jazz-pop filtered through the eyes of a Charles Dickens misfit. The once heralded Greatest Living Englishman has cut his street-preacher hair, thrown on a pair of shades, slung a sports coat over his shoulder, and created a surprisingly fun batch of self-penned standards. That's not to say that it works, but Newell's self-deprecating wit, magnetic personality, and amiably imperfect voice give each song a warmth and a wink that would make any listener want to throw another log on the fire, pour a glass of brandy, and share in some stimulating conversation with likeminded freethinkers. Newell's idea of jazz is far more "When I'm Sixty-Four" than it is "Love Supreme," and standout tracks like "Trinity Square," "Grenadine and Blue," and "Sparkletown" — the latter owes a great deal to the Dixie ragtime of Good Old Boys-era Randy Newman — continue to revel in his lifelong love of the gas-lit London streets of old, but Newell's become a bit more cosmopolitan these days, and Light Programme is his attempt to replace those musty wicks with light bulbs.


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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