Harps and Angels (Nonesuch)
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Sept. 12, 2008
Randy NewmanHarps and Angels (Nonesuch)
With his first recording in nine years, Randy Newman says adios. Not to his music career of 40-something years but to the U.S.'s reign as a superpower. In the brilliantly arch "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country," released as a single last year (and published as a New York Times op-ed piece), Newman aligns the Bush administration's failings with the worst excesses of the Caesars, the Spanish Inquisition, and Leopold of Belgium before noting, "The end of an empire is messy at best, and this empire is ending like all the rest." It's grouped with a jaunty prescriptive for immigrants ("Laugh and Be Happy"), a Weimar cabaret-style complaint about life at the bottom ("A Piece of the Pie"), a Manhattan cabaret-style primer on life at the top ("Easy Street"), and a sales pitch for success through discipline by Asian elders ("Korean Parents") in a five-song run that constitutes a State of the Union address more honest, more inclusive, more insightful, and funnier than any you'll hear from a chief executive (or candidate for the office). Newman's piercing critique of this American life is shot through with his trademark empathy and justice for all, even the liars and losers. More of the songwriter's endearing ne'er-do-wells populate the disc's other songs, such as the beguiling title track in which one recounts his near-death encounter with the Almighty and his backup singers. The characters are memorable, the satire sharp, the music luxurious, and the arrangements maybe the most gorgeous in all pop music. Hello, Randy. Don't say goodbye for a long, long time.