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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 1. 28th February 1973

Randy Newman : "Sail Away" Reprise Reviewed by Stephen Matthews

Randy Newman : "Sail Away" Reprise Reviewed by Stephen Matthews

Randy Newman's fourth album "Sail Away' proves itself to be yet another of his masterpieces of ironical humour, musical innovation and economical arrangement. His songs have been recorded by Ray Charles, Judy Collins, Nillson, Alan Price, Three Dog Night and Fats Domino, yet nobody handles them quite like he does. It is predicted he will influence American music as much as Cole Porter and George Gershwin and I'd go along with that.

Newman's particular brand of black humoured rock tainted with a touch of cynicism and a pinch of Jewish schmaltz contains a timeless quality which enables it to transcend the varied styles which he employs. Like David Bowie, he also has a great sense of the theatrical, building the plot and structure of his song to a climax and then cutting it to pieces with an under-staled, double-edged one liner. The result is an exciting fusion of the world of musical comedy and cabaret with the energy and popular appeal of rock.

'Listen to the band—they're playing just for me
Listen to the people paying just for me
All the applause all the parades
And all the money I have made
Oh, it's lonely at the top'

His haunting fascination for the life and feelings of the down-and-out give his songs a bitter sweet quality and basic human truths seen through the eyes of a loser seem all the more poignant.

'A quitter never wins
A winner never quits
When the going gets tough
The tough get going

Newman works from the belief that life is to be endured rather than enjoyed (or as Bowie would say 'Knowledge comes with death's release') and his song 'Old Man' is concerned with man's coming to terms with his alone-ness at the end.

'Won't be no God to comfort you
You taught me not to believe that lie
You don't need anybody
And nobody needs you.

Don't cry, old man, don't cry
Everybody dies'

A strong atheistic element is present throughout the album. Like most atheists Newman seems more preoccupied with the questions of the existence of God than the average Jesus freak. He thinks God is 'kinda funny' and in 'Gods Song' he presents a darkly comic vision of heaven that adds yet another dimension to the good old Pearly Gates.

"The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree
The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV'

I mentioned earlier that the LP is a masterpiece of economical arrangement. His sound is built around his rough, deadpan vocals and his distinctive, whimsical piano playing. However, guitar, bass, percussion and strings are not merely 'added'— they are all part of Newman's total concept and their combination sparks off a particular emotive response. There are no indulgent, unnecessary noises. It is obviously the work of a perfectionist. The title track alone took six months to lay down before Newman was happy with it. The level of performance is impeccably high, which is not surprising when one sees the list of backing musicians; Ry Cooder, Rus Titelman, Jim Keller and Gene Parsons, to name but a few.

In short, 'Sail Away' is a masterpiece.