If there was ever any question of Jimmy Webb having achieved immortality as a
songwriter, it can be answered during an episode from the first season of The
During the episode, Fozzie Bear is prepping himself to perform "The Telephone
Pole Act," repeating his mantra, "I am a telephone pole,” when Kermit walks up
and says, "No one's ever going to believe you're a telephone pole."
Suddenly, a guy wearing a hard hat strolls onscreen, singing, "I am a lineman
for the country / And I drive the main road," wraps a phone line around Fozzie's
nose, and keeps on walking.
Kermit says, "I stand corrected."
Dude, when your song is a Muppet punchline, you’ve made it.
It isn’t just “Wichita Lineman” that’s secured Webb’s reputation, of course.
There’s “MacArthur Park,” “Galveston,” “The Worst That Could Happen,” “The
Highwayman,” “Where’s The Playground, Susie,” “Up, Up, and Away (In My Beautiful
Balloon),” and many, many others. He is, in fact, one of the few songwriters of
the ‘60s who can comfortably be spoken of in the same breath as Burt Bacharach.
Actually, Jimmy has a leg up on our man Burt, in that he can sing his own songs
rather well. (Ever heard Bacharach crooning “Alfie” when they did that tribute
special to him on TNT? He freely admits his own failing as a vocalist, but,
still…ouch.) He doesn’t do it very often – Twilight of the Renegades is
his first album of new material since 1993’s Suspending Disbelief – but, when he
does it, it’s invariably something to look forward to hearing.
Webb’s lyrics tend toward the grandly poetic rather than the “moon / June /
spoon” rhyme scheme, which may explain the lead track bearing the decidedly epic
title, “Paul Gaugin in the South Seas,” as well as its epic length (almost seven
minutes). Still, it’s the perfect launching pad for the album, setting the stage
for twelve tracks which include delicate verses and, when the mood is right,
soaring choruses; the latter is particularly evident on this opener,
highlighting Gaugin’s search for paradise.
“Spanish Radio” is a classic Webb romantic lament, where the narrator, singing
from the confines of Pocatello, Idaho, bemoans the fact that “I don’t eat
fajitas much anymore / And salty margaritas I just cannot abide / But I still
like to listen to Spanish radio / And think about the days when Jose Cuervo was
my friend.” The melancholy “Time Flies,” meanwhile, is so lovely that it could
almost appear in a Disney film, and, ironically, “Why Do I Have To…” almost
sounds like a Bacharach tribute, with its muted horns.
This is not an album to be listened to as background music, although, given that
it consists predominantly of piano ballads, it could certainly serve as such.
No, this is a mellow disc which provides no end of subtle pleasures, both in its
lyrics and its melodies, and it’s highly recommended for your next Sunday
morning chill-out. Twilight of the Renegades serves as a reminder of what
pop music was like before being “in your face” became an industry requirement,
and it’s comforting to know that Jimmy Webb can still produce such beautiful
songs, whether it’s cool or not.