Randy Newman’s ‘Live in London’ a solid, if unremarkable, release

Robert Starr

Randy Newman is something of an unconventional singer-songwriter. Aside from his voice, which only really works for Randy Newman songs, his songwriting is difficult to pigeonhole. While many know him for his contributions to the Disney and Pixar movies, which are heartfelt, childlike and simple, his albums are full of cynicism and bitterness, albeit sometimes disguised.

Whatever style he’s writing in, however, Newman is a treasure, and an often overlooked one at that. Live in London provides exactly what the title promises: a small, intimate performance by Newman, featuring some of his most popular songs as well as more recent ones from his Harps and Angels album.

Backed by a fairly large orchestra, Newman puts on a good show considering the venue, though he’s a fairly low-key performer. His sense of humor keeps things interesting (“This is a love song that I wrote for my first wife while married to my second”), but other than the small amount of banter he provides, there’s not a whole lot here that one doesn’t get from the studio albums.

However, if anything’s clear from the performance, it’s that Newman’s as good as he ever was. His newer songs are just as biting and funny as his classics and some, including “A Few Words in Defense of My Country,” are perhaps even better. Additionally, his old songs have lost none of their appeal, remaining just as relevant now as they did some 30-odd years ago when he originally recorded them.

Live in London includes two discs, one an audio CD and the other a DVD with a video presentation of the concert in both 5.1 and stereo sound. The DVD also includes a brief, but insightful, interview with Newman, which is worth watching even for moderate fans of his.

The discs provide exactly what one expects, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s fun to watch Newman interact with his audience, even if he’s not as energetic as some more rock-centric musicians. Still, one hopes that this is just the appetizer to prepare us for another studio album with new songs featuring Newman’s curmudgeonly take on the world today, which is already vastly different than it was during his last release three years ago.

Printed on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 as: Randy Newman exhibits same old music, attitude