Howie Newman, |
Trust Me, You'll Like It
(Major League, 2006)
If Howie Newman was a television show or movie, he wouldn't just break the fourth wall; the entire bit would happen on our side of the fourth wall. In Trust Me, You'll Like It, Newman admittedly takes the opposite route of other musicians by having a serious song interrupt his mostly-humorous theme. There's a persistent theme of self-deprecation and in-jokes about his own performances and future in a musical career. He's charming and affable, but ... it just doesn't last.
Honestly, this is a frustrating album to review. It's fun and mostly entertaining, but it's not an album that really merits a positive review. (I guess this would fall under the unfortunately negative review, with an emphasis on unfortunate.) And with that title, if a reviewer doesn't like it, then they fall prey to becoming the stereotypical negative Internet reviewer/contrarian.
When taken in the first or second time, Trust Me, You'll Like It is good for a smirk here and there, but beyond that, the novelty of Newman's humor fades away. The nudge-nudge/wink-wink desperation of "Please Buy My Record" is initially amusing, but is that a song that you'll start to sing along to time after time or at least tap your toe? The same can be said for "Big in Belgium" -- the self-deprecation is droll, but will the drollness last? (From my own experience, the 12th time isn't as humorous as the first two or three.)
There is an undeniably recurring sense of fun that is pervasive throughout the album. "Drivin' in Boston is Drivin' Me to Drink" is a funny ditty that rings true in personal experience for Bostonians and national rumor (or truemor?) for the rest of us. Songs such as "Everybody's Talkin' on the Phone" with its Seinfeldian observational humor, the tongue-in-cheek romantic ditty "Middle Age Love" and Roaring '20s style of "Pushin' 30" are somewhat catchy tracks. However, their charm has a limited shelf life.
I guess the point is that Trust Me, You'll Like It doesn't offer much for repeat listening. Newman's vocal and musical skills are adequate, but not distinctive to the point of easy recognition. And while the songs themselves are initially entertaining, they lack the impulsive/improvisational charm that I'm sure is prevalent in his live performance. It's a difficult sell for any performer, but is especially unfair for a performer that uses humor. And what is unfortunate for both Newman and the listener is that, while the permanence of a record/album works for most performers (capturing the "best" version of a song), I think the permanence hurts Newman in this case. The interpersonal relationship between Newman and the audience is permanently recorded, but isn't conveyed. I'd wager that his style and approach are great for live shows, where the humor is conveyed in a more direct manner and spontaneity can reign supreme.
C. Nathan Coyle
8 December 2007