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 has been 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 winningly quizzical, but his chief assets are his compositions, which reflect contemporary English life with a wry combination of affection and cynicism.
For most of the 1980s, Newell was the mainstay of Cleaners From Venus, who recorded most of their albums at home for cassette-only self-release, although they eventually put out some vinyl product. After a short stint as head of the similar Brotherhood of Lizards, Martin started a solo career in the 1990s that was essentially a continuation of the territory he'd explored in the 1980s; sometimes he re-recorded songs from the previous decade. The difference, if any, was that he was concentrating on the proper official album market instead of the cassette underground, with somewhat higher (though not slick) production values.
Newell's most acclaimed album was 1993's The Greatest Living Englishman, which was produced by Andy Partridge of XTC. The Off White Album (1995) was a bit more baroque in approach, with occasional string arrangements. Spirit Cage was issued in fall 2000. Newell has co-written material with Captain Sensible and is a poet/humorist of some renown in Britain, publishing his own prose with a good deal of success and writing humorous pieces for the Independent newspaper. Ironically, his music is virtually unknown on his home turf, although he enjoys a considerable cult following in Germany, Japan, France, and on certain American college radio stations. ~ Richie Unterberger