"How can you not like a song that goes, "My name is Prince and I am funky/ When it comes to funk I am a junky'?"
New Pornographers frontman Carl Newman is speaking, of course, about "My Name Is Prince," the infamous single that many fans consider an embarrassing stain on Prince's impressive career. But for Newman, that's his bread and butter: picking out the dandelions among the roses of Top-40 radio, letting them bounce around his subconscious until he can combine them into a sumptuous, three-minute pastiche of power-pop.
Formed in the late '90s in Vancouver, the New Pornographers were considered a Canadian indie-rock supergroup of sorts with Newman, Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer), Kurt Dahle (Limblifter), John Collins (The Evaporators) and, of course, scarlet diva Neko Case.
"It was kind of a Wizard of Oz thing, where I was Dorothy," explains Newman. "I found Dan the scarecrow, Neko the tin man, Blaine the cowardly lion. I was just trying to assemble a crack band of my friends, basically."
After the release of Mass Romantic (2000) and Electric Version (2003), the musical compatriots became a full-fledged band. And even with little or no radio support, Newman found that not only were they popular among critics, but with indie-rock fans who had been secretly clamoring for some '70s-era AM-radio pop to balance out a universe dominated by Staind and Destiny's Child. Even Judas Priest screamer and clandestine San Diego resident Rob Halford is a fan.
Their new album, Twin Cinema, may be their best yet. It's an opulent affair with unmistakable hooks, sing-along choruses, and Newman's trademark non-sequiturs (sample lyric from the single "Use It": "The phonebook's been ripped off/ and two shapes in the dark across the way know the price of flight." What?). The sharing of the workload remains the same, with Newman splitting vocal duties with Case. It does lack some of the fluidity of the previous records, but it makes up for it with more challenging and exigent tunes. There's even a hint of melancholy in Newman's voice.
"I wanted the record to have more peaks and valleys," he explains. "There was a conscious attempt to mess with the formula. We definitely wanted to do something a bit more epic."
Newman says he has already started to record demos for the next record, and with the loose collective nature of the band, he isn't too worried about the future of the New Pornographers.
"When we're traveling around, we're just a bunch of friends hanging out. Hey, it works for me."The New Pornographers play with Destroyer and Immaculate Machine at the Belly Up Tavern on Sept. 30. $18-$20. 858-481-8140.