Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Randy Newman: 12 Songs [Reprise, 1970]
As a rule, American songwriting is banal, prolix, and virtually solipsistic when it wants to be honest, merely banal when it doesn't. Newman's truisms--always concise, never confessional--are his own. Speaking through recognizable American grotesques, he comments here on the generation gap (doomed), incendiary violence (fucked up but sexy), male and female (he identifies with the males, most of whom are losers and weirdos), racism (he's against it, but he knows its seductive power), and alienation (he's for it). Newman's music counterposes his indolent drawl--the voice of a Jewish kid from L.A. who grew up on Fats Domino--against an array of instrumental settings that on this record range from rock to bottleneck to various shades of jazz. And because his lyrics abjure metaphor and his music recalls commonplaces without repeating them, he can get away with the kind of calculated effects that destroy more straightforward meaning-mongers. A perfect album. A+