In America you'll get food to eatYou can see, looking closely at the words, instead of buying the song whole, why controversy might follow. But Newman can be subtle, too. His song "Dayton, Ohio - 1903" is a gentle portrait of simpler, slower times; the irony is not in what is said, as in "Sail Away," but in what is unsaid: the two people missing from that portrait of Dayton are its most famous sons, Wilbur and Orrville Wright, who in 1903 were about to put an end to the world Newman describes. It's not cutting or particularly bitter, despite the unspoken lament of its narrator.
Won't have to run through the jungle and scuff up your feet
You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day
It's great to be an American
Beyond the songs themselves, the musicianship is excellent. Ry Cooder's twang is in full force on songs like "Last Night I had a Dream"; and Newman's facility with arrangements is obvious, from the subversive salesmanship of "Sail Away" to the rising horns that usher in the climactic "Burn On":
Cleveland, city of light, city of magicThe dated topicality of "Burn On" is exceptional to the album. Nothing else strikes the listener as horribly out of place. Even the ironic A-bomb-romancing of "Political Science" transcends its 1970s, no-nukes pedigree:
Cleveland, city of light, you're calling me
Cleveland, even now I can remember
'Cause the Cuyahoga River
Goes smokin' through my dreams
No one likes us, I don't know whyYou might even -- if you strain -- detect the tiniest kernel of misanthropic literalism in those lines.
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens
If you don't have the taste for vinyl (and Sail Away can be found in that format for $2 in every used record store), the remastered disc is available. But I like the sound of Newman on vinyl, with all the scratches and skips and imperfections. It's more like the world he describes.