Saturday, May 26, 2012

Trouble in Paradise (1983)

For his first LP of the '80s (seventh overall), Randy Newman appeared to be traveling with enough cachet to attract quite the impressive stable of hands to help out: Lindsey Buckingham, Don Henley, Rickie Lee Jones, Christine McVie, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Jennifer Warnes, and you get the idea. I bet they had a hell of a party. The production is buffed to the point that you can almost see your reflection in the gloss; even Wikipedia notes the loss of some of Newman's folk and country bent, replaced with keyboards and drum machines. If "Mikey's" is any indication, Newman hates himself for that. But the point of view of the singers in his songs never amounts to shit, does it? Trouble in Paradise is filled with songs that are equal parts novelty, broad plays for big laffs, and marvels of the school of tasty production, with a couple dreary ballads dotted through—all steeped in his usual dry, sly, and wry wit that verges on the caustically bitter, a stance we have come to know well. The style roams considerably from track to track and across the totality of the album. There aren't any outright homeruns, but a lot of base hits. I declare "My Life Is Good" as the funniest song (narrowly beating out the backing vocals on "I'm Different"), a riff on the privileged yuppie in his native environs, complete with name-dropping fantasy of Bruce Springsteen asking for some help of his own ("Ran, I'm tired, how would you like to be the Boss for awhile?"). It's also the easiest target, more or less. Well, wait a minute, Capetown, in "Christmas in Capetown," may be easier, beating Newman's familiar territory of the racist attitudes that will not go away. It's also possessed of the loveliest moment here, when the song abruptly swoons into the chorus. "Mikey's" may be the single most obvious cry for help of the curmudgeon trapped in the future, a zigzagging and robotic parody of New Wave four years late: "Whatever happened to the fucking 'Duke of Earl'?," he, or the singer, implores. And there are not one but two modest anthems about two emblematic American cities—Los Angeles and Miami. For me, start to finish, all things considered, and applying judicial prudence, it's a really solid set.

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