Randy Newman began the slow process of transforming himself into a polished L.A. song-crafter on the album Little Criminals, and with Trouble in Paradise the metamorphosis was complete; by this time, Newman could make a record just as ear-pleasing as anything Paul Simon, Don Henley, or Lindsey Buckingham could come up with, and proved it by persuading all three to appear on the sessions. But no matter how polished the arrangements and smooth the production, Newman's songs don't sound like they're ready for radio, and he's too bright not to understand that songs about apartheid, self-pitying white bluesmen, and arrogant yuppies are poor prospects for the pop charts. Trouble in Paradise marked the high point of Newman's struggle between pop sheen and his satiric impulses, and the album is a significant improvement over Little Criminals and Born Again. The targets of Newman's satirical gaze are easy to skewer, and his pen is hardly subtle, but the overall tone is more respectful than on Born Again and the results are stronger. The bitter Afrikaner in "Christmas in Capetown" and the egocentric blowhard in "My Life Is Good" have at least earned Newman's disgust, and while many of the character studies ("Mikey," "I'm Different") and vignettes ("Miami," "Take Me Back") take a less than charitable view of their protagonists, like the losers and half-wits that populate Good Old Boys, they're human beings whose flaws reveal a hint of tragedy. And the closing number, "Song for the Dead," is a stunner in which a soldier explains to the bodies he's burying the purpose behind the war that took their lives. While too slick for Newman's core audience, Trouble in Paradise was his most intelligent and best realized work since Good Old Boys, and his finest album of the 1980s.
Trouble in Paradise Review
by Mark Deming