Lonely at the Top
was my first Newman purchase, and boy I’ve done a lot of things in my life I regret, but paying 400 Belgian francs for this sure isn't one of them. I was only familiar with “Short People” and various re-workings of “You Can Leave Your Hat On”, but it only took me two listens to appreciate the sheer wealth of material Randy Newman has written.
This collection gathers songs from six of his first seven albums, omitting anything from the less-than-average Born Again
(anything from that album would've been the weakest track here). Fortunately, all the songs that did get chosen - apart from “Baltimore” and perhaps “Living Without You” - are among the highlights of their respective albums. Only two cuts from 12 Songs
is a bit ungenerous, but they do serve to illustrate Newman's evolution as a songwriter.
This probably sounds like a platitude, but the most impressive tracks are taken from Sail Away
and Good Old Boys
. In fact, songs 6-13 are without exception stunning. Whether they touch upon racism in the most improbable fashion, deal with religion through satire, or attack US foreign policy in a clownish way, the originality and attention to detail is always unquestionable. “Political Science”, “God’s Song”, “Rednecks” - they should teach that stuff at school, as they are timeless pieces of art that succeed in confronting without moralizing, and do so with wit, passion, and sheer beauty.
The reach of Newman’s humor always strikes me, ranging from the cruel, the satirical, to the grotesque and the ironical, while sweeping songs such as “Louisiana 1927”, “Marie”, “I Think It’s Going Today” still get me every time I hear them.
by Reviewer: Guy Peters
(blogging at Guy's Music Review Site