With virtually every Randy Newman album I’ve yet encountered my problem with him has in part been the aesthetic – a unique and not particularly compelling singer singing acerbic is often backed by extremely slick arrangements. But that’s not the case here as Newman has abandoned the massed arrangements of his debut for members of the Byrds and Ry Cooder, among many others.
The result is somewhat transformative – I’ve never heard Newman sound like this and I must say I find this version of him much more appealing on an aesthetic level.
And so I come again to Randy Newman the songwriter. He is a good songwriter. Perhaps he is a great songwriter. Perhaps one of the great songwriters, as many view him. But he’s not my type of songwriter. Still, I find when listening to Newman’s songs to be mostly confused as to why everyone else thinks they are brilliant. It’s not that I think they’re bad, and it’s not like he’s never made me laugh, but I just don’t connect with him. And I think it’s because he’s the furthest thing from a confessional songwriter. That’s definitely part of it.
But it’s not the only part because there are other songwriters who write in character whom I genuinely love. So maybe I just need more time with him and his songs. Because I thought if any album would do it it might be this one, featuring multiple musicians I’m a fan of and a sound that doesn’t irritate me from the get go.
There’s something else I want to mention about this supposed classic – isn’t it slight? This album isn’t even a half hour long. I get that there are those who are very much pro brevity in pop music but I am not normally one of those people. Here I find the thing passes by very quickly and I barely have time to register his ostensible genius. I’m not asking for a double album – seriously, I am not – but it feels weird to me to acclaim a record as a masterpiece where the longest song is three minutes. (I understand that this is just my prejudice talking, but I can’t help but feel like these are pretty slight songs.)