Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Randy Newman – Putin

Days since last bout of controversy: five 0


Brad Shoup: This was corny when Randy dropped it last year. After 14 months of Putin standing in for the failure of technocratic governance, it’s excruciating. It’s a sketch of the man as rendered from a Colbert monologue: a collection of rusty zingers (the Kurds line, pretty much everything related to The Putin Girls) with rotted connective tissue. I suppose I should be thankful that he just made a mildly ambitious Mark Russell tune, rather than stretching this to Broadway length.

Alfred Soto: He’s topical and funny! He inserts details like the Trans-Siberian railroad. Through it all he sings in the thick-as-tar accent signifying that He’s Being Ironic. As usual with this dude, he goes over my head and talks to boomers.

Iain Mew: Robbie Williams’s take was more enjoyable to listen to and funnier. It was also 90% about Robbie Williams and still had as much to say about Putin as this.

Ian Mathers: This sub-Capitol Steps crap is the kind of thing that makes it very hard to remember that Newman is perfectly capable of both cleverness and decent melodies. I mean, he is, right? Have I been living a lie?

Edward Okulicz: Newman takes this barely-there song which would have to weigh twice as much to even be a trifle, and sings it in a way that’s so leaden, it crashes like a bowling ball. It’s like a really awful musical number where the writer smugly thinks that because things rhyme, they’re clever. It’s no “Putin Putout,” that’s for sure.

Nortey Dowuona: Big, shiny, cheesy singing from Newman as the swinging, chaotic piano sails through the expanding, energetic drums, tangled horns, tinkling guitars, sharply drawn strings and goofy choirs alongside the stiff and vivid bass.

Rebecca A. Gowns: This reminds me of elotes: corn covered in cheese. Randy Newman has made Putin into a cartoon villain, one that’s half-Disney, half-South Park. It’s theatrical, silly, clever in a nerdy way, and dumb if you think about it for longer than a moment. Lord help me, I like it. I really shouldn’t. But I do. Much like elotes.

Katherine St Asaph: Well, now I know how Mueller’s flipping everyone.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Great political art doesn’t exi-“

Jonathan Bradley: In his 1999 song “Great Nations of Europe,” Randy Newman turned the colonial powers of the West into Randy Newman characters: nasty, self-serving, and pathetic in a way that fails to dispel their malice. “Putin,” from Newman’s 2017 album Dark Matter, does the same for Vladimir; the Russian president is here an aspiring imperialist overly amused by silly puns about “Kurds and whey.” When The Simpsons had George H.W. Bush move to its setting of Springfield, the show’s executive producer Bill Oakley clarified that their parody was “not a political attack; it’s a personal attack,” and “Putin” works along similar lines. This Putin is a man who thinks a great deal of himself, and is dangerous enough to insist that those around him should too. That allows for propagandist grandeur as well as pettiness; this Putin claims everyman status while insisting at every turn of his own superiority: “You saying Putin’s getting big-headed?” he scoffs. “Putin’s head’s just fine!” Newman allows his character to wander into bombast before that character reels back his comedic excesses in recognition of their silliness. So this Putin has a chorus line that chants ribald praise, only to have it negated by a paternal scolding: “Putin hates the Putin Girls, cause he hates vulgarity.” Later, when his offsiders try to tell him the United States won the Second World War, he chuckles: “that’s a good one, ladies.” This probably has little in common with the real, nastier, more capable Russian leader, but “Putin” doesn’t need to have a lot to say about Eastern European geopolitics. Its concerns are about subjects Newman has sung of across six decades now: power, and the brazenly squalid ways those who wield it are happy to use it.

Will Adams: At the beginning of the year I complained about “Chained to the Rhythm” and its passive, inoffensive approach to the protest song format, but I didn’t know how bad it could be. Imagine that same lack of insight except with plonky piano, punching down on women and Peter Griffin levels of explaining-the-joke (“Putin puttin’ on pants!” “Kurds! Way!” GET IT?!). At the end of 2016 we were relieved the year was over, and that 2017 would be a fresh start. It’s now almost 2018 and with each day we’re wondering how many more circles of Hell we’re about to descend. Won’t the music at least sing us sweetly into the fire?

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3 Responses to “Randy Newman – Putin”

  1. thanks to iain i have been listening to ‘party like a russian’ for a full half hour and let me tell u it’s lit

  2. Oh no, this is like that time I made everyone listen to Father John Misty :(

  3. Well, now I’m listening to Party Like a Russian too.

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