Picks and Pans Review: Trouble in Paradise

updated 03/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Randy Newman

Newman is the wicked fellow, remember, who said that short people "got no reason to live" and urged that we drop the Big One on South America because they "stole our name." The troubles Newman finds in paradise this season are manifold. There's a Party at My House describes a suburban swinging scene so vividly you can almost hear the zippers unzipping. Miami and I Love L.A. are lampoons of the silly municipal chauvinism that's popped up around the U.S. in recent years. Christmas in Capetown yields a mock defense of South African racism with the line "What are we gonna do, blow up the whole damn country?" Newman also renders a scathing attack on fast-laners in a tune called My Life Is Good, wherein cultural amenities such as cocaine, private schools, swanky hotels and Bruce Springsteen all get roughed up. Randy reserves his most scathing lines, however, for Song for the Dead, about Vietnam. Sings a lone soldier to the dead "on behalf of the leadership": "We'd like to express/Our deep admiration/For your courage under fire/And your willingness to die/For your country, boys/We won't forget." That bitter vignette, like most of Newman's compositions, is peopled with characters as quirky and finely drawn as those in a Flannery O'Connor story. But just to keep listeners off balance, he drops in a couple of sensitive, affecting straight songs, Real Emotional Girl and The Blues, which features a duet with Paul Simon. Besides snagging some of the best of the Malibu Studio Mob to back him instrumentally, Newman also profits from vocal backups by Linda Ronstadt, Wendy Waldman, Don Henley (obviously busy lately), Bob Seger, Rickie Lee Jones, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie. Newman is clever with lyrics, but he has a broad enough technical grasp of music to be able to pull such little jokes as a four-second parody of ELO's pompous classical rock style in My Life Is Good. His voice is on the croaky side, but that just helps him deliver his often abrasive message.

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