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Harps and Angels by Randy Newman (Nonesuch/Warners)

What is observable about the latest instalment from the bard of biting, barded-wire wit is that, as with his last album Bad Love, released nine years ago, the love songs are actually better than the satirical ones. The latter come over as ramblingly unfocused and artificially forced in a way the honest heartstring tuggers here, like ‘Losing You’ and ‘Feels Like Home’, do not. There is nothing to knock a song like 1972’s ‘Political Science’ into a corked hat in terms of succinct but penetrating bite, not even ‘A Few Words in Defence of Our Country’, which damns Bush and his failed administration with the faintest of praise (he’s not as bad as Caligula, Hitler, Stalin etc). Curiously, this is not because the social comment isn’t spot on, but because Newman’s rhymes are slacker. Many of these compositions come off like misplaced, over-talky show songs, rather than stand-alone, self-contained entities. ‘Political Science’, albeit a broad parody of Broadway, was Porteresque in its linguistically gymnastic subtly, containing a one-two killer punch like ‘surprise them’ followed by ‘pulverise them’. The best ‘A Few Words…’ can do is ‘The Spanish Inquisition/It put people in a terrible position’, which admittedly isn’t bad, but is not sustained throughout. Still, although some of the tunes may be slipping towards formulaic New Orleans shuffles, Newman is far from settling into and settling for a smug old age. Complacency wouldn’t suit him at all.

First published in Magill magazine, December 2008

















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