Randy Newman: Harps and Angels

Since I can’t work my way around the “Treat Your Ears Kindly Too” section, album and concert reviews will be posted here as well. First off, I have a review of Randy Newman’s latest LP, Harps and Angels. If I persuade you into checking it out, I recommend first that you go to a local independent music store. If you’re living anywhere that doesn’t have a music store, and I know, that’s nearly everywhere outside of Lincoln and Omaha in Nebraska, save the money and get it digitally off iTunes. With this CD, you get the digital artwork, which is as close to getting the real thing as you can get.

You may want to listen closely to what Randy Newman has to say. For nearly a decade now, he’s been out of the public eye hunched over film scores, but chances are he’s been in the public ear more than anyone else in the music business. Starting with Toy Story 2 in 1999, he had a string of seven scores written for very prominent movies, four of which were box-office number ones. Getting back into the swing of things and recording his first studio album since 1999’s Bad Love didn’t seem to be any chore, though. His level of songwriting on Harps and Angels, released on August 5, 2008, is on par and at some points better than the best out there today, and his immersion in the movie business, where vivid imagery reigns supreme, has refined the landscapes his songs paint.

But he still has his shortfalls. He still sounds like he just had a shot of Novocain and is absolutely incensed by the absurdness of the dentist appointment he’s at. He’s not afraid to sound out brutally honest and vitriolic attacks, but this is nothing new either.  Back when he was a budding songwriter in the 1970s, his knack for humorously sardonic analyses of the government and other easy targets set him apart from the Jackson Browne’s of the day. On this album, he takes great pleasure in satirically ripping apart sensitive and introspective types such as Browne, John Cougar Mellencamp, and Bono in “A Piece of the Pie.” In fact, no one is spared in this no-holds-barred diatribe pointed at all of America and the way we complain about the terrible situation we find ourselves in: being able to buy only one Frappaccino a day. And it comes at just the right time, when we’re being barraged by McCain and Obama ads from all around.

You may want to listen closely to what Mr. Newman has to say because he is now 64 years of age and knows what he is talking about. Pretty boys like Jackson, John and Bono can’t fight back, and thank God they can’t, and as he points out in the title track, “Harps and Angels,” even God can’t escape being exposed. The speaker in the song tells a tale of how he fell flat on his face out of the blue and saw his life flash before him, only to find out that a “clerical error” was made.

Newman also throws in a couple truly sentimental numbers with “Losing You” and “Feels Like Home.” Strong songs by themselves, they pale in comparison to the sharp tongue of “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country” and “Korean Parents.” I’d kill to have his point of view. From the gloomy and dismal subjects of our declining empire of the United States, he does the unimaginable and pulls laughs out in “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country.” In his most direct stanza of the record, Newman gets on the backs of our young members of the Supreme Court saying,
You know it kind of pisses me off
That this Supreme Court is going to outlive me
A couple of young Italians fellas and a brother on the Court now, too
But I defy you, anywhere in the world,
To find me two Italians as tight-assed as the two Italians we got
And as for the brother, well
Pluto’s not a planet anymore either

Listening closely may not be all that we should do to honor this album. My suggestion is proclaiming Randy Newman as songwriter laureate of our country. His job will be to cut through the glossy politics and give us a point of view of truth and a great, big belly laugh.

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Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 3:22 am  Leave a Comment  

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