Excellent

LITTLE ORPHAN ANI

TYLENOL TALENT

STUPID BLOODY STUPID!

Interview

All the News That Didn't Fit

On the Record

The Olympia Connection, Or Lack Thereof

Excellent

The Numbness Is Just a Bonus

Hiphop City

WEEN ARE THE WORLD

Soul by the Pound

EXCELLENT REAL ROCK QUOTES

Incest is Best

The Rise and Fall of the N-Word

DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, Tell the Truth Anyway

You Don't Own Me

Summer Lovin'

Stagger Lee

Music to Lose Your Job By

Boy, You Sure Can Take the Fun Out of Music

CINEMATIC CLICHE

Stuart Braithwaite From Mogwai

Going to New York City?

THE CHURCH OF COLTRANE

A Whole N'other Level

Who Says Morrissey Fans Don't Get Laid?

ISSA ROCKA ROLL

Not Modest Enough

Now that "irony is dead" (ahem), the air seems clear enough to raise the specter of Randy Newman, who used that device masterfully back when it still might have been remotely transgressive or interesting. A pioneer in the sketchy-to-many, beloved-by-some oeuvre of unreliable-narrator-character-study songs, Newman wielded a dry voice, a scathing pen, and a Tin Pan Alley genius for pop piano.

Famous now for two "funny" hits and innumerable Hollywood film scores, Newman was far more than a novelty act. He examined race, class, romance, history, religion, fame--usually in the first person--forever catching his narrators in hypocrisy and self-indictment, never shying away from saying the worst possible thing. He could also write nakedly pre-cynical songs, evoking love, loss, or sadness with equal ease. But like Elvis Costello after him, Randy Newman was always willing to be a complete bastard in his songs, and that's what made him audacious.

Newman's provocative lyrics had obvious literary pretensions, which were defused by a powerfully caustic sense of humor, a contempt for egomania, and a healthy sense of the absurd. These elements combined perfectly on Newman's most ambitious LP, Good Old Boys--a real '70s concept album: empathy, scorn, mockery, and wonder fill an 11-song cycle about the South, where Newman spent half his life growing up. Though the songs are heavily critical studies of trash, loonies, drunks, dirty politicians, and bigots, there's also a deep admiration for the ordinary people there who simply go about their lives.

One such man spends a whole song reveling in the small things, trumpeting the virtues of "Birmingham, Birmingham, the greatest city in Alabam'," before breaking down drunk--in a different song--because it's the only way he can face his wife, Marie ("I'm weak and I'm lazy and I've hurt you so..."). "Louisiana, 1927" tells the story of a farmer getting screwed by the President after a flood destroys his land ("They're tryin' to wash us away"), meanwhile Governor Huey "Every Man a King" Long talks a bunch of useless, self-aggrandizing rhetoric ("who took on those Standard Oil men and whipped they ass, just like he promised he'd do?"). In the end, all a Southerner can do is "pour myself some whiskey and watch my troubles vanish into the air."

Boys opens with the boldest attack, "Rednecks." The bigoted narrator laments the high-handed treatment of Lester Maddox on a TV show hosted by "some smartass New York Jew." The song is illegally catchy as our singer explains how dumb and worthless he and his friends are ("we're rednecks, we're rednecks, we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground..."), then climaxes in the sing-song chorus refrain, sung exuberantly ("we're rednecks, we're rednecks, we're keepin' the niggers down"). By the time the word "niggers" comes up, you're ready to sing along.

Bastard.