Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Never having subscribed to the theory Newman is an unalloyed genius means always having to say you are sorry. But if you, too, are of that persuasion, here's the album to tune in for.
After years of writing soundtracks (with his own take on Faust along the way) Newman returns to his narrative style in songs which are typically cynical, ironic, funny and astutely observed viciousness.
And for a man who hides behind masks and personae, he offers some nakedly personal songs: I Miss You is a sober and considered, lyrically lean, emotional address to his ex-wife.
In fact, his voice runs a range of emotions from Shame (a crusty old man increasingly angry about his whore/girlfriend not coming around, which ends with him yelling "shut up" at the backing singers then begging for forgiveness) to the sparse ballad Every Time It Rains.
The opener carries that Newmanesque cynicism about an American family transfixed by television. Typically the chorus says, "this is my country, these are my people ... "
And set against garageband power chords and Slash-styled guitars, his swipe at geriatric rockers on I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It) is wickedly accurate: "I have nothing new to say, but I'm gonna say it anyway ... each record that I'm making is like a record that I've made, just not as good."
He can also pen a haiku-like Going Home (which will doubtless turn up in gospel groups' repertoires) and I Want Everyone to Like Me. Decide for yourself whether that's Newman, or a persona in the latter.
He is one of the few writers who could get away with The World Isn't Fair, a wake-up call to Karl Marx from a yuppie perspective: "Karl, they tried out your plan, it brought misery instead, if you'd seen how they worked, you'd be glad you were dead. Just like I'm glad to be in the land of the free where the rich just get richer, and the poor you don't have to see ... "
As always, Newman offers all this against wonderful arrangements (sample the spare ballad Every Time It Rains, the soaring strings and trickling piano of Better Off Dead, or the pompous oompah militarism of Great Nations of Europe.)
Produced by Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake (Crowded House, Los Lobos), these 12 songs count among the finest in Newman's 30-year career.
Seems there's still a place for a bespectacled, ageing, white Californian piano player - who uses the word "ramifies" - in any serious collection.