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The New Pornographers, a 'Real' Supergroup

The Canadian pop band The New Pornographers formed a decade ago as a side project for its members, who all belonged to other projects. Since then, critics have called the band a supergroup.

But calling The New Pornographers a supergroup is a misnomer.

For that matter, the band's name itself is a misnomer, borrowed from a Jimmy Swaggart quotation about music being "the new pornography." But supergroup? Not exactly. Though some of its fans might recognize them by sight, The New Pornographers are better known for making vibrant pop music inspired by '70s AM radio and '80s new wave.

On their new CD, The New Pornographers dial down the bounce factor of their earlier work. They lean more heavily on thoughtfully composed, magnificently arranged songs, mostly written by band leader Carl Newman. Newman is known for his love of big pop compositions. But there are a few surprises here, like the slinky riff and stealthy groove on "All the Old Showstoppers" that pull you into a symphonic explosion.

Though they formed in Vancouver, The New Pornographers offer an evocative snapshot of New York City on the song "Myriad Harbour," written by Dan Bejar. They capture the moments of epiphany that can be found by just standing still in the midst of New York's chaotic streets. You can imagine them, or maybe yourself, motionless and meditative as the city rushes by.

Carl Newman wrote the song "Go Places" for his new bride — he even put her first name in the lyrics. Instead of singing it himself, though, he hands it to country belter Neko Case: a smart move. With her strong, expressive voice, Case transforms what might have been mawkish or too sparse into a stunning moment.

And that's the beauty of The New Pornographers: their collaboration. When your bandmates can take your song far beyond what you can do by yourself, well, that's what I call a real supergroup.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Meredith Ochs