To say Colin Newman's solo work is exceptional is like saying the world must turn for us all to survive. There's just no getting away from it. And in my humble (but very trustworthy) opinion; 'Not To' is as good as it gets.
Colin Newman may well remind you of that swotty kid in your class at school who went on to make his parents proud by becoming an accountant. The mans' very name is enough to bring a 'rock' fan out in blisters. He has a slightly drony voice and he rather rolls his r's. Whenever I've seen him interviewed,(and that isn't very often I grant you) he tries to conceal his nerdy short-comings by appearing arty and enigmatic. Not at all easy, when you're making little Mo Slater look like Jim Carrey.
Of course Colin refrained from joining the economic community. Instead, with three other serious looking art students, he co-formed a punk rock group - interestingly called Wire.
His parents will still have been proud. He did go on to further education, even though noisy pop music wasn't the direction they'd wished he'd taken.
After three superb studio lps and one rather messy cod live effort, Wire decided to have a little rest and this, for this reviewer anyway, is where things get interesting.
Colin Newman (and shall we call him Col from now on - he'd love that), embarked on a rather nifty solo career. 'A-Z' was one bonkers album (see J A Parkes' sound review elsewhere on Amazon), 'Commercial Suicide' was another (slightly later, bit more subdued but still generally bonkers). He worked with a myriad of incredibly obscure European muso's (oops, I forgot, artists...), and worked for some incredibly obscure labels - some of which may well be perceived as 'industrial'.
Determined to be taken deadly seriously and equally determined to have his ghastly revenge on mean ol' EMI who'd treated Wire so badly, Col feverishly ploughed a lonely furrow. Un-aided by the record buying hoi-polloi, or the wretched, totally bemused and Satanically rotten music-press who could only stand and watch.
Phew! You can almost touch, taste AND feel the hostility.
Then, one or two of us (if there was THAT many!) began to realise, slowly but surely, that tricky old Col was in fact, winning. He'd turned things around. He was making music that was addictive, clever and often surprising. He was operating in a universe that those dead execs at EMI could never hope to find him in, never even get close enough to try and hurt him again. A spell-binding, expansive universe, all devilishly wonderful snipped verses, and joyously cynical, vendetta tinged choruses.
Col was in his element(al). It was like he'd died. All the years of pain and suffering just seemed to melt away, the lines on his face became less pronounced, less harsh. His world was smiling again.
We cried when we heard 'Not To', not because it's depressing (it isn't), and not just because it's breath-takingly brilliant (it is!), but
because Col DESERVED it like no other, before or since.
Listening to 'Not To' is like watching your favourite team win 3-2 after being 2-0 down or a rank outsider romping past the post to gain the most unlikely of victories.
As another great man said at the time; "Well done underdog" (and I'll tell HIS story in a different place).
Col always looks smug because he knows that someone who's made 'Not To' has every right to be. Pleased as punch, he must storm down his local high street - big grin - "I made 'Not To'.
It'd go to most people's heads!
People define genius in lots of differing ways often imbueing mediocre or populist fare with such a pinnacle of accolade (Bowie or U2 for example..), but if I was asked to define it I would simply say: "Someone who has made 'Not To'".
To say Colin Newman's solo work is exceptional is like admitting you love life and cant wait, good or bad, for the next installment.
'Not To' is his absolute masterpiece.