Newman makes a surprising claim in "Ragtime's" CD 2002 issue booklet. Referring to "Trouble in Paradise" he says "I think that's my best record. Not many others do, but I do." Newman then credits his film score composition for vastly improving his pop albums. This may sound puzzling coming from the man responsible for "12 Songs", "Sail Away", and the amazing "Good Old Boys". When speaking of Newman's accomplishments, "Trouble in Paradise" rarely receives effervescent laudations. The album actually seems mostly forgotten even though it made #67 on Rolling Stone's "Best Albums of the 1980s" list.
Newman's career took a turn in 1977 that led to 1983's "Trouble in Paradise". Newman's "Little Criminals" began the divergence from the heavily orchestrated acoustic folky sound of his 1960s - 1970s work to the more electronic sounds of the 1980s. True, a lot of this reflects the trends of the time, and maybe Newman had to follow the scene from necessity, but the trends blare like neon in this album. "Trouble In Paradise" simply sounds like a 1980s album. The synthesizer sounds and production scream of the era. The song "Miami" was even featured on an episode of "Miami Vice" (1986's "Trust Fund Pirates", episode #043; yes, anything can be found on the internet).
Regardless of the sounds and production values, "Trouble In Paradise" contains some great Newman. Arguably, it vastly improves on 1979's "Born Again". "I Love LA" starts off the album on Newman's typical tongue-in-cheek-but-sounds serious note. The video received almost constant MTV airplay, but the song didn't come close to "Short People's" chart status. "Christmas In Capetown" explores a nasty 1980s theme: apartheid in South Africa. This time the tale gets told from the point of view of one of those who "went along with the status quo" of the time. It's probably the album's best song. "My Life Is Good" probably qualifies as the album's 2nd best song. The lyrics comprise a rant (of a person who has a little too much of the spoiled good life) to a teacher who tries to question him. His rebuttal? "My life is good you old bag!" Some classic haunting Newman ballads also dot the album. "Same Girl", "Real Emotional Girl", and "Song For The Dead" prove that Newman hadn't completely abandoned his earlier style. The remaining songs, apart from the very obvious hit grope "The Blues" (even Paul Simon shows up with rather mixed results), range from great to simply good Newman. The lesser songs typically get saved by their lyrics (e.g., "I'm Different" is very funny even if it's not a great song). The lyrics in general, along with the album's title, explore the ugly side of paradise. Broken cities, racism, neuroticism, sexism, greed, obstinance, date rape, poverty, self-importance, and people who have trouble with change. "Trouble In Paradise" is Newman's portrait of 1983 America. The portrait seems to resemble Dorian Gray and Goya's "The Family of Charles IV". Trouble in Paradise, indeed.
"Trouble In Paradise" and 1988's "Land of Dreams" completely exhaust Newman's 1980s pop album output. By 1983 Newman found himself well entrenched in the Hollywood filmscore scene. Pop albums became something he did between more lucrative film music, as the grand total of 2 albums from 1980-1989 attests. This trend continued into the 1990s ("Faust" and "Bad Love" were Newman's only 1990s non soundtrack releases). Still, the albums he did release make up for the empty years. After all, two great albums a decade beats the pants off of 10 crappy albums a decade.