Randy Newman

Little Criminals

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After Good Old Boys, one of the most ambitious and thematically unified albums of his career, Randy Newman seemed to beat a willful retreat for his next project, 1977's Little Criminals. For the most part abandoning the carefully structured orchestral arrangements that dominated Good Old Boys and Sail Away, Newman cut Little Criminals with a handful of pop-friendly session musicians and L.A. Mellow Mafia regulars (including most of the Eagles), and his arch, cutting satire gave way to a lighter but less thoughtful tone, with the humor becoming less mean-spirited (though becoming much more venomous than "Rednecks" might have been difficult). Newman even revisited one of his favorite themes, the pointlessness of racial prejudice, with a metaphor so silly no one could fail to understand it. Or at least that's what he thought when he wrote "Short People"; the song unexpectedly took off as a novelty hit, and the vertically challenged across the country began attacking Newman for what they saw as an affront to their dignity and well-being. As a result, Little Criminals became Newman's first (and only) gold album in the United States, but this set wasn't an especially good way to introduce the average record buyer to his work. Little Criminals lacks the scope of Newman's best work, the music is skillful but bland, and several of the songs sound like padding (especially "You Can't Fool the Fat Man" and "Jolly Coppers on Parade"). While the title tune, "Rider in the Rain," "In Germany Before the War," and "Sigmund Freud's Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America" (which was written for the movie Ragtime but not used) are fine songs, much of Little Criminals sounds like Newman was treading water; it's not his worst album, but it sounds like the work of a man figuring out what his next move should be.

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