Land of Dreams

Randy Newman

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Land of Dreams Review

by Mark Deming

Unlike his contemporaries in the singer/songwriter community, Randy Newman has displayed little interest in writing about himself, with nearly every song in his repertoire set in the voice of some imagined character. So 1988's Land of Dreams was startling because its first three songs formed a triptych about Newman's childhood; for the first time on one of his albums, Newman was clearly writing about his own life, and the results were extraordinary. "Dixie Flyer" tells how Newman and his mother came to move from Los Angeles to New Orleans during World War II; "New Orleans Wins the War" introduces young Newman to the issues of race in the Deep South as he ponders the odd realities of life in "The City That Care Forgot"; in "Four Eyes," cross-eyed Newman is forced to confront responsibility (and cruelty) for the first time on his first day in school. But while Land of Dreams begins as an unusually strong and compelling concept album, Newman apparently lost interest in writing about himself, and from track four onward, Land of Dreams is content to pick up where Trouble in Paradise left off. Themes of race and class in America dominate the second half of the album, most potently on "Roll With the Punches" and "I Want You to Hurt Like I Do," two "responses" to the grandstanding compassion of "We Are the World." Land of Dreams is a strong piece of work from Randy Newman, but if he'd had the courage to follow what he'd started with the first three songs, he might have had a masterpiece.

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