By Liane Bonin
December 26, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

Plenty of our greatest composers have had their gloriously romantic music notoriously counterbalanced by completely ill tempers in real life. Randy Newman has as fine a flair for a lovely melody as anyone since Richard Rodgers, but — fortunately for his fellow misanthropes — he’s never felt the need to privatize his bad will toward man. And so “Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman” is chockful of all the loneliness, godlessness, cruelty, misery, and misunderstanding the species can muster, wrapped in orchestrations so spectacularly beautiful they can only be described as transcendent. Go figure.

Guilty’s first two discs effectively reprise the brilliance of his nine character-driven studio albums. A fun if spotty third CD collects live tracks, outtakes, and rarities (including an early Pat Boone-produced single), while a fourth summarizes his increasingly prodigious film scoring, where he can be Coplandesque in earnest. His movie songs tend to be Newman defanged; you keep waiting — hoping? — for some profane kicker to “I Love to See You Smile” or the theme from Michael. But revisiting the pre-Disney catalog, from “Mama Told Me Not to Come” to “I Want You to Hurt Like I Do,” is the essential draw in a box that gives short and tall people alike at least short-term reason to live.

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