In the liner notes for the recently re-issued "Ragtime" sountrack, Newman makes a confession: "I made 'Little Criminals' when I ran out of money and had to work". From that point on, Newman's albums contained production that more or less reflected the era. 1977's "Little Criminals" sounds like an album from 1977 (of course, having members of the Eagles perform backing vocals emphasized this to a hyperbolic degree). "Born Again" sounds like an album from 1979, and its follow-up "Trouble in Paradise" sounds like a 1980s album, and so on up until 1995's "Faust". This isn't to fault Newman at all, but merely to point out that Newman's music took a not so subtle production turn in 1977, for better or worse. Perhaps Newman allowed the record labels to have more control over his product purely out of necessity? Regardless, Newman's albums didn't suffer much, if at all, from the more mainstream production they received throughout the 1980s.
The extreme synthesizer that invades some of the tracks on "Born Again" may shock some who only know Newman's earlier work. It's not bad or unlistenable, just jarring at first. "Born Again" departs from Newman's previous efforts in many ways, and the synthesizer presents only one example. The almost complete lack of orchestra is probably the second most salient change. Newman hadn't abandoned orchestra to this extent since 1970's "12 Songs". That may have been a money saving move (orchestras aren't for the frugal) or Newman simply wanted to experiment with synthesizer as an alternative. Either way, its absence shapes the distinctive sound of "Born Again".
The opening track, "It's Money That I Love", justifies the existence of the entire album all by itself. It's one of Newman's best songs (he included it on 2003's "The Randy Newman Songbook Volume 1"), though the heavy synthensizer may make some recoil at first. In "Mr.Sheep" Newman paints probably the cruelest portrait ever of another human being. The narrator of the song jeers and sarcastically insults "poor Mr.Sheep" to a painful degree. Be prepared to cringe. "Ghosts" is a classic Newman ballad. It would fit nicely in any of his best albums. The song evokes the question "are these ghosts still alive or not?" Newman takes on intolerance to homosexuality for the first time in "Half a Man". And then there's "Pants". It features the most obtuse and obnoxious synthesizer on the entire album. But it's really really funny. It may be one of Newman's funniest.
It's not too hard to see why many consider "Born Again" to be one of Newman's worst albums. In it Newman experimented, played with his style, and diverged somewhat from his previous albums. Newman fans will still love it nonetheless. It represents the turning point for Newman's projects that ended with 1999's amazing "Bad Love". Can this phase be explained by the aforementioned simple confession that Newman had to start working? Hard to say. Either way his fans still benefitted.