‘Dark Matter’ By Randy Newman Album Review: Mix Of Poignant Sad Stories & Politics
Randy Newman went nine long years without releasing an album of new and original songs until he released his 12th studio album Dark Matter last week. The jazzy musician with one of the most distinctive voices of the past century, uses his latest album to share his satirical political beliefs, sing a few sad love songs, and tell a few sharp stories from often unheard from point-of-views.
Dark Matter begins with an 8-minute epic titled “The Great Debate.” The song, possibly put up front to shake off the Newman pretenders, is a hilarious clash between science and religion.
With a full orchestra backing up the moderator, Newman introduces the science side first, “We got biologists, biometricians, got a quantum mechanic and astrophysicians. Got a cosmologist and a cosmetician, got an astronaut, we got Astro Boy! We got he-doctors, she-doctors, knee doctors, tree doctors! We got a lumberjack and a life coach!”
The religious side gets a nice introduction as well, “We got the Baptists, the Methodists, Presbyterians. The Episcopalians are here, pass the hat! We got the Shakers, the Quakers, the anti-innoculators, the Big Boss Line from Madison Town!”
The punchline of it all is that because the scientists can’t explain life’s biggest questions – and that the True Believers can by chalking it all up to Jesus – the scientists are seen as hacks.
This humor, as is true for most Newman albums, seeps into the majority of the tracks on Dark Matter.
In “Putin,” Newman satirically praises the Russian leader, at one point singing, “And when he take his shirt off / He drive the ladies crazy / And when he take his shirt off / Make me wanna be a lady!”
Sticking with the political vein, Newman adds “Brothers” to the front side of the album. The title, and song, refer to Jack and Bobby Kennedy and in it, Newman sings a fictional conversation had between the Kennedy’s.
But Dark Matter also steps back from the political glow of 2017 and tackles some other topics Newman is well versed in.
On “She Chose Me,” Newman manages to make a happy thing (someone in love with you) into a sad thing (you don’t deserve the love). “From time to time, I ask myself why was it I and not someone else / The most beautiful girl in all of the world, and she chose me,” he sings.
What seems to tie the whole album together – beside’s Newman’s voice – is the wonderful use of the orchestra. Throughout the album, the orchestra is utilized on both large and small scales. What the instrumentation allows Newman to do is tell dark and sorry stories while still maintaining a surrealist feel to the music.
Even with sad words about our current reality hummed through the speaker, Newman allows the listener to feel like they are wandering through a dreamy movie. And perhaps that’s the funniest joke of all.