Bad Love is the first album of new songs both written and sung by Randy Newman in more than a decade, and, at fifty-five, this satiric master is still in fine form. Much better, in fact, than the contemporaries he skewers over a Stones-Kinks riff in “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It)”: “Each record that I’m making/Is like a record that I’ve made/Just not as good.”
As the title suggests, Bad Love casts a wry eye on romance, and, as usual, Newman doesn’t spare himself from the sharp edge of his insight. Older men (“froggish . . . unpleasant to see”) besotted by younger women catch it in “The World Isn’t Fair” and “Shame,” and the shaded emotions (“I’d sell my soul and your souls for a song”) of “I Miss You” are likely addressed to his ex-wife and their children.
Producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake keep Newman’s sound clean and uncluttered, even at its most orchestral. That allows the songwriter’s typical cast of unsettling characters to be gracefully borne up — their humanity validated, for better or worse — on his gorgeous, hymnlike melodies. The effect is complex and deep in ways that only Newman can be, and for that reason alone, Bad Love is good to have.