Harps and Angels

Sharp, incisive, funny and at times even heart-rending in the context of some beautifully-judged rag/country/Dixie-land songs.

Randy Newman is still chronicling the death and potential resurrection of the United States

As the USS America sinks below the waves of (as Randpaints it) low self-esteem, unjust warfare and its own bullshit, the veteran songwriter has appointed himself its chief piano player and toastmaster. He’s probably back out of a dogged sense of duty. I mean, someone’s got to chronicle the state of the nation, and none of the young people have quite taken up the baton (they need Korean parents Randy suggests on, er, ‘Korean Parents’).

And here Newman is still sharp, incisive, funny and at times even heart-rending in the context of some beautifully-judged rag/country/Dixie-land songs. There are some standout political tracks. ‘Laugh And Be Happy’ is about US immigration policy and how “It’s never been about keeping you out, it’s been about letting you in”; ‘A Few Words’ suggests that America’s leaders may be bad but they’re not that bad (and it’s true! Caligula, Hitler, Stalin and Leopold of Belgium are mentioned!); and ‘A Piece Of Pie’ contains the line “Jesus Christ it stinks from high to low. The rich are getting richer – I should know!” (which is a lot more self-aware than “Imagine no possessions” sung by another multimillionaire playing an expensive piano). Even the musical arrangements are witty, with quotations from mariachi music, the American anthem and The Simpson’s theme-music strewn around liberally to finger-jabbing, point-expressing effect.

Yet, despite all these on-the-mark satirical jabs at his homeland there’s a recurrent assertion that although America’s empire might be fading, there could still be some sort of redemptive afterlife for the land of the free. And lest the archness seem too much, Randy also presents us with two beautiful and sincere ballads worthy of early Tom Waits. ‘Feels Like Home’ in particular sounds like a love song to the country he lambasts so much. Because although Randy Newman and America fight, they always make up before sunset.


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