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Album Review: Randy Newman Randy Newman's Faust Reprise 9362-45672- 2

Randy Newman had better watch his back around Christians. Here, according to his version of Faust, is Lucifer explaining the origins of religion to God: "Some fools in the desert, with nothing else to do/ So scared of the dark they didn't know if they were coming or going/ So they invented me, and they invented you/ And other fools will keep it all going" - and off, into a show-tune singalong chorus of "We're a figment of their imagination... "

Such is the sharpness of Newman's iconoclasm in his updated version of Goethe's classic, which re-casts Faust as a sulking teenage sociopath from the Midwest, over whose worthless soul the devil (Newman) and God (a lordly voiced James Taylor) dispute with some reluctance. A natural focus for his cynicism, the project allows Newman to engage in devil's advocacy over such vexed topics as religion, morality, and the value of Canadians.

He's helped in the endeavour by Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt - as the objects of, respectively, Faust's and Lucifer's affections - and Don Henley as Faust himself. Henley comes into his own on the excruciating anthemic power-ballad "Bless the Children of the World", one of several bitterly accurate parodies of showbiz cliches that litter the album with the detritus of mangled popular discourse. It's brilliantly done, of course; Newman's experience scoring movies undoubtedly helps with many of these parodies, but that same experience betrays his own too-frequent recourse to nostalgia: rather too much of the album harks back to those same cornball show-tune modes, as if they offered a more wholesome alternative to the debased values of the modern world. Which is as much a fantasy as religion itself, of course.