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The world of songwriters can get pretty craggy, especially around the hazy, irony-crusted period known as the seventies. There are mystic troubadors, the emoters and all manner of guitar-addled gurus, but the best of the crop have always been the cynics. From Costello to Zevon, they were the ones who saw the decade from a fashionable remove, always staying one step ahead of critics and, for the most part, the listening public.

Randy Newman, the grand old curmudgeon of the cynics, has taken a break from his film work to put out his first album in nearly a decade. Of course, it’s fairly standard late-career business—impeccably professional but lacking some of his earlier bite—but that shouldn’t stop you from taking another stroll through Newman’s gallery of sycophants, sloths, and generally bad people. For newcomers, we’d recommend a different starting point, but if you already know the man, it’s nice to see him get comfortable.

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