ROCK / A devil with some good tunes

Randy Newman; Cliff Richard

RANDY NEWMAN'S first British show for seven years is at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, for five years the home of Miss Saigon (''Two years would do me fine,'' says Newman). The star is grey-haired, bespectacled, seated at a grand piano. The music is slick Broadway fare, the audience mostly middle-class, but somehow the evening remains triumphantly uncomfortable.

We may convince ourselves that the songs are not about us - his characters are ghastly Americans, so ghastly Brits can laugh with impunity - but we are never certain that they are not about him. Sixteen years after ``Short People'', his famous satire on bigotry, he can still trick you into seeing red when he sings of the ``Yellow Man'', ``eatin' rice all day''. If Quentin Tarantino were directing a film about Alf Garnett, Newman would star. He galumphs through the show tunes with shameless enthusiasm, but never allows the monologues to become incredible.

Newman laughs at the idea that his songs are about him, but we all know what is spoken in jest: ``I don't think they're autobiographical. They could be, but if so I should be in an institution.'' In ``My Life is Good'', he adopts the character of a nouveau riche who attacks a lowly paid teacher for daring to criticise his son: ``Hold it, teacher / Dear, you don't seem to realise / My life is good, you old bat.'' In the next verse we learn that the protagonist is a successful musician called Randy. And despite Newman's sideline in film scores, he mocks his proficiency as a composer: ``Schubert wishes he could write shit like this.'' So when he announces that he has written a musical based on Goethe's Faust, with the Eagles' Don Henley in the title role, everyone laughs. It turns out that he means it: the album's coming out next year.

In his reflective ballads, he seems sincere. He pulls his knock-out punchlines, removing the barbs if not the hooks, for ``Marie'' and ``Baltimore''. He is more of a croaker-songwriter than a singer-songwriter, but his voice carries tremendous depths of feeling. Not only is he chilling, he can be remarkably warm. Maybe. Look out for the Faust album. Newman plays the Devil.

Dodgy are the best band of the year. Unfortunately for them, it's always next year. The three-piece's 1993 debut, The Dodgy Album, was a mine of Beatlesy pop gems, and this year's Homegrown (A&M) proved that the seam was not exhausted. (Guess what Dodgy grow at home? Their record company sent packets of marijuana seeds to journalists as a promotional gimmick - although not, for some reason, to the Independent on Sunday.) Both records were produced by Ian ``Lightning Seeds'' Broudie, who can't sneeze without it sounding like an infectious melody. And yet the band still manage to dodge major success.

Those in the know enjoy Dodgy's biggest London gig yet at the Astoria II on Thursday: singing along with their three-part vocal harmonies, dancing to the sprightly riffs and quacks of wah-wah guitar.

However, fans do not leave the concert any more convinced than when they arrived. There is little change of pace or structure, and the keyboard, provided by an extra player, doesn't recreate the punchy brass on some of their tracks. Dodgy are growing, although so far their concerts are not as good as their albums. But when your albums are near-perfect, that's a price you have to pay.

The set designers are the most talented people behind Cliff Richard's Hit List show at Wembley Arena on Friday. Cars roll on stage for ``Summer Holiday'', snowflakes dance around the backdrop for ``Mistletoe and Wine'', and the neon-lit proscenium arch was designed to be like the top of a giant juke box. I know this, because Cliff explains: ``It's designed to be like a giant juke box.'' Evidently, he does not imagine that his audience is very bright. He elucidates every joke: ``The next song, I'll give you a clue, it's the title song of The Young Ones. So what's it called? `The Young Ones'!'' He expects us to believe his ad-libs - ``This is going to be embarrassing. We haven't rehearsed it . . .'' - but refuses to respond to, say, a rush to the stage by a crowd of women.

Does the audience deserve this condescension? Wembley Arena seats 12,000. Cliff plays there for 10 nights and visits six other cities. Surely not all of his fans can be stupid?

Maybe they remember when he was so cool that Keith Richards dropped the final ``s'' in his name to emulate his hero. They should remember, as most of them, to be frank, have not been young ones for some time. Maybe they have come to see the Cliff face. His hair should be as white as his jeans, but no, he still has a teenager's looks. Maybe they love his nifty rhythm guitar or his strong, vibrato-laden, but emotionless voice. (How come our most godly rock star has no soul?)

There must be some reason for their attendance, because they can't all be stupid, and I wouldn't suggest they were. I'll leave that to Cliff.

Cliff Richard: London Wembley Arena, 081-900 1234, Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun 27, Tues 29, Wed 30; then touring.

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