Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Randy Newman's Faust (Reprise) ain't Goethe. It ain't Sondheim or Rodgers & Hammerstein either--too earthy and too cynical, respectively. Slightly Rodgers & Hart, maybe. Newman's musical-comedy rewrite of the soul-selling tale revels in the high-spirited cynicism that has been his specialty over nearly three decades as Hollywood rock's most respected songwriter. And although he may hit Broadway yet, he'll never match the CD's cast: himself as the Devil, James Taylor as God, Linda Ronstadt as the good girl, Bonnie Raitt as the bad girl, and Don Henley in the title role, which has come down some since Goethe tested the world's wisest man. This Faust is a freshman at Notre Dame who signs the contract sight unseen because he never reads on his own time.

Untrammeled by Newman's somewhat haphazard-seeming book, these songs are rich. They mock rock, religion, musical comedy, the classix, and American culture all at once. God is a palavering politician, the Devil a midlife whiner, Faust a bigger creep than both of them put together. Yet the pleasure Newman takes in his own artistic hubris is so ebullient that his satiric vision never turns cheap or shallow, as it has in the past--the love songs he gives Ronstadt and Raitt are his warmest ever. Musical comedy is the perfect medium for his unique synthesis of soundtrack grandeur, blues-savvy studio rock, and general Americana. If he ever does reach Broadway with this thing, he'll put Hair and Tommy to shame--and maybe Sondheim, too.

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince hasn't been as far gone as his pathetic or tragic attempt to reconstitute his artistic identity leads some to think. This is not to predict that The Gold Experience (Warner Bros./NPG) will completely revive his commercial identity. But it is to insist that the strongest tracks here--namely, P Control and Endorphinmachine--funk and rock as outrageously and originally as anything he's ever recorded.

Playboy, Oct. 1995

Sept. 1995 Jan. 1996