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Dark Matter, Randy Newman's first album of new material in nine years, is the follow-up to 2008's acclaimed Harps and Angels, which the Guardian called "the work of a true master of popular song." Produced by long-time Newman collaborators Mitchell Froom, Lenny Waronker, and David Boucher, the album includes songs about Vladimir Putin, the Kennedy brothers, Sonny Boy Williamson, science vs. religion, love and loss, and more.
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- Language : English
- Product Dimensions : 5.59 x 5.08 x 0.31 inches; 2.19 Ounces
- Manufacturer : Nonesuch
- Original Release Date : 2017
- Date First Available : June 27, 2017
- Label : Nonesuch
- ASIN : B071JW9L1Y
- Number of discs : 1
- Best Sellers Rank: #48,942 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Things begin with "The Great Debate." Reigning as Newman's longest non-soundtrack song yet at just over eight minutes, this piece will probably instantly evoke 1995's "Faust" for longtime fans. It features a wide cast of characters: a narrator, a scientist, a gospel troupe and a "true believer." The topic centers, not surprisingly given the polarizing cast, on science versus religion. The setting: Durham, North Carolina, "the heart of the research triangle," referring to Durham's "Research Triangle Park," which the city itself calls "the world's largest university-related research park." Eminent scientists, a lumberjack and a life coach, have gathered contra the "true believers" in a setting just waiting to explode. The first question goes to the scientists: Dark Matter. What is it? Where is it? One scientist answers, swathed in mystically evasive reverb and dissonance, "we don't know what it is, but we think it's everywhere," which sends the narrator into a skeptical frenzy. He summons the true believers who break into a raucous ditty, "I'll take Jesus every time." Then evolution, particularly the length of Darwin's giraffe comes under fire, and maybe brimstone too. "Unfortunately," the narrator concludes, "Mr. Charles Darwin didn't have any common sense" and this leads to another "I'll take Jesus" mosh pit. Next, of course, Global Warming. But before this "debate" ensues one of the true believers admonishes the narrator as a phantom straw man of "Mr. Newman." This believer then admits to believing not only in Jesus, but also in evolution, global warming and life everlasting. "No one can knock me down," the person claims. The narrator thinks otherwise, even about "Mr. Newman." After a chorus celebrating an ever-watching presence, he calls a break for "15, 20, 25 minutes, depending on how the merchandise is moving." For the first time, Newman has a character reference him directly, in a sort of Kurt Vonnegut "Breakfast of Champions" manner. He's not deconstructing himself, but adding a new self-conscious dimension to his penetrating, serious yet hilarious, satire. In what some have called our "post-truth era" rhetoric, emotion, belief and even manipulative music dominate over things once known as "scientific facts." Scientific facts, or theories based on observation that don't always agree with human wish fulfillment, remain largely misunderstood and have fallen on hard times yet again. Galileo nods and says "told you so!" People simply want to believe what they want to believe. Have things ever worked differently? The song's title bears this out as no debate of any kind occurs in the narrative. Add this song to a long list of Newman's reflections on what inspires people to do the things that they do.
Upon hearing the name "Bobby," flowing along on amazing orchestration, in the first line of "Brothers," people of a certain vintage will immediately think of JFK and RFK. These brothers discuss the now largely excoriated Bay of Pigs invasion. The conversation digresses on the Washington Redskins, Irish whiskey, the year 1961, plantations, and finally on the invasion itself. JFK says he loves a woman in Cuba, evoking an "oh, no Jack" from Bobby. But this is different, apparently, and the song transforms into a celebration of Celia Cruz, the late "Queen of Salsa." The operation becomes an effort "to save Celia Cruz." Bobby always sings harmony. The implications of spin resonate loudly in this song, as they do in "Putin," a classic Newman portrait made available on the internet some time before "Dark Matter" appeared. This song not only features breath-taking arrangements, but also a nudging wink at Vladimir Putin's hyper-masculine media facade and Russian power. The alliterative possibilities of the letter "P" also get thoroughly exploited. "Lost Without You" portrays a broken, possibly an alcoholic, man dealing with the loss of a wife, maybe once a servile trophy wife, who has evolved emotionally. Much of the song occurs via the devastated man's eavesdropping. The melancholic music contains slight reminders of gorgeous songs such as "Louisiana 1927." "Sonny Boy," also available digitally prior to the entire album, celebrates the famous blues artist Sonny Boy Williamson. But which one? Two twentieth century performers from Chicago claimed this name. Only one actually possessed the surname "Williamson," for convenience now known as Sonny Boy Williamson I. Many accuse Sonny Boy Williamson II of capitalizing on Sonny Boy Williamson I's name following his death in 1948. The song has the lonely Sonny Boy Williamson I mourning the success of the person who stole his name with fantastic ragtime and blues tinged music. This easily qualifies as another Newman classic.
The TV series "Monk" used a slightly different version of "It's a Jungle Out There(V2)" from its second to its final season, hence the "(V2)." This version begins sounding a little like something off of Newman's earlier "Born Again." The song warns of the dangers lurking in the great big world, making for a perfect Newmanesque landscape. "Even the cops are scared today." The tender "She Chose Me" may refer to Newman's current wife, who he so eloquently rhapsodized about between songs on "Live In London." Though often considered a matter of nasty sardonic social criticism, Newman can also write incredibly poignant love ballads as witness here. Compare this song to "Marie," "Falling in Love," "I Miss You" and others. "On The Beach" returns to darker matter with a once promising surfer now beyond burned out on drugs and fear. The music may swing but the lyrics tell a murkier tale of polyurethane, acid, freebasing, war and encroaching urban development. "Willie," the song's tragic anti-hero, still remains on the beach despite everything, or perhaps because of everything. To close the album, the sparsely arranged "Wandering Boy" further explores the less than flippant side of things. A child has apparently disappeared and the narrator asks for help from anyone to "push him toward the light." A sad, delicate song, it manages to encompass the feelings of anyone who has experienced, or who is currently experiencing, the disappearance or loss of a child and the chilling anxieties that likely accompany such feelings. Dark matter, indeed.
Many may yearn for Newman to increase his meager non-soundtrack output. After all, "Dark Matter" puts Newman's non-soundtrack, original, non-live album count at only eleven since 1968. Since 1980, he has so far released only five such albums. The sterling quality of these albums speaks to their infrequency. John Cleese often stewed when people criticized him for producing so few Fawlty Towers episodes, he always responded that people don't know how long real quality material takes to create. Fawlty Towers still reigns as one of the greatest sitcoms to ever grace the home screen, but each episode actually took colossal time to conceive and write. Given the quality of Newman's albums, the same argument very likely applies. Do you want it good or do you want it fast? In our frenzied and often suffocating times of ridiculously exhausting market release deadlines, quality seems to have lost out to sheer numbing quantity. Some people, apparently Newman himself, prefer to do things well rather than fast. Things as good as "Dark Matter" require patience, after all. So take your time, Mr. Newman.
So, "Lost Without You" is my favorite, but that's just me.
I like to think that I encouraged the inclusion of "She Chose Me", from COP ROCK, as it was always a favorite of mine that got lost in the shuffle of film and TV music. Good to have it here. Guys like me feel like that guy all the time. Not gonna lie to you, the song makes me cry every time.
This is a wonderful and brilliant collection of Randy Newman music and songs. Thanks to all who made it happen. I wanted 10 songs, but I got 9. That's really okay. Thank you Randy. Maybe that was my review. Great album! You did good.
But if its Randy Newman singing, and Randy Newman fans listening, it doesn't matter where this album ranks in the pantheon. If you are a fan, you want it and will be rewarded by repeated listening, letting the lyrics seep into your consciousness and tickle your funny bone (the ironic, satiric one if you have it). If you aren't a fan yet, well, there are quite a few better Randy Newman albums to choose from and I wouldn't want you to be put off from discovering his genius.
My personal favorite song from this album at the moment is the slow and touching "Lost Without You" and maybe that's because its where I see my life heading now. Randy nails it and I feel it at the core of my soul. That's what he does when he's on top of his game.
"The Great Debate" encapsulates in eight minutes where our divided society stands today. Randy does not let either side off the hook because he is too keen and honest an observer of our social order to let that happen. "Putin" is broader humor and wickedly on target. (I read he also did a song about Trump but left it off the album. Pity.) "Sonny Boy" is a great elaboration of a historical fact -- somebody really did appropriate the real Sonny Boy Williams identity after he died and made a career on it. "Brothers" offers another telling slice of history, in this case capturing a private, poignant moment between JFK and Bobby.
But every song on the album, even the lesser ones toward the end, have something to offer. Newman remains among the most accomplished raconteurs of the American carnival.
Top reviews from other countries
Best track, in my opinion: "She Chose Me". This one track alone justifies the price of the CD.