Picks and Pans Review: Land of Dreams

updated 10/31/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/31/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Randy Newman

After a five-year recording hiatus during which he contracted the Epstein-Barr virus, this past master of pop bounces back with a rich collection. Newman's new LP is a shining testament that his wit, imagination and songwriting talents are undiminished. Roll with the Punches, for instance, is classic sarcastic Newman. It does for social policy ("They say, 'You got to, got to, got to feed the hungry'...I say we ain't gotta do nothin' for nobody/'Cause they won't work a lick, you know") what his Political Science ("Let's drop the big one now") once did for international relations. Land of Dreams is marked by its variety of attitudes and narrative voices. The mordant/Want You to Hurt Like I Do is the not-so-bitter confession of an emotional cripple trying to rationalize his hurtful behavior to his family and the world. When it suits him, Newman can dispense with his withering humor and write lovely, straightforward compositions. That was proved 18 years ago on the lilting Nilsson Sings Newman album. Newman proves it again here with the simple, pretty tune, Falling in Love, which one of the producers, Jeff Lynne, infuses with a spare, anglicized-Mexican musical background, almost as if it's played by a mariachi duo from Minnesota. The most unforgettable track is Four Eyes, on which a man recalls as a 5-year-old being awakened by his father before dawn, dressed in a little brown cowboy outfit, driven to an unknown destination and deserted. Is it a case of cruel abandonment, or worse, the first day of school? The song's cinematic arrangement is by turns jaunty and ominous. There are a few less than satisfying efforts on Land of Dreams. One of them is Masterman and Baby J, a spoof of rap music that fails largely because rap, like many '80s phenomena, is so outrageous and self-mocking as to be parody-proof. And It's Money That Matters is ruined by the intrusive guitar of Mark Knopfler, who produced seven of the album's 12 songs. Newman's style is so finely calibrated that even slight tinkering can disrupt its delicate balance. Knopfler's sonic sweetening only serves to make Newman's tone seem smartass and his cottony voice seem silly. Fortunately, most of the time on Land of Dreams Newman is allowed to be Newman, and that's a dry delight unlike any other in pop music. (Warner Bros.)

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