Album Review: Dark Matter – Randy Newman
By Rupert Barnett
This August saw the release of Dark Matter, a new album of songs, by Randy Newman. In
recent years Mr Newman has tended to concentrate on his work writing film scores (most
famously for Toy Story). This being so, any solo record of new songs from him is greatly
looked forward to by enthusiasts of his work. In Dark Matter, an album that touches on
themes such as love, loss, death, regret, family, recent history and the personality cult of
Vladimir Putin, there is much to be looked forward to.
There are very few songwriters currently working who seem interested in, or are indeed
capable of, using satire in their songs. Even fewer of them are able to do it with quite such
cutting humour. (Notable exceptions to this include Nellie McKay and Lail Arad.) However,
there are none that I can think of who would attempt to take on science, religion, the nature of
polarized debates and themselves all in the space of one song. This is exactly what Mr
Newman does in The Great Debate, the opening track of Dark Matter. More satire is to be
found on other tracks throughout the album, notably Putin and It’s a Jungle Out There.
However, to my mind, it is some of the more understated, introspective tracks that stand out
the most. In Wandering Boy, Newman sings of a fathers wish to be reunited with his long
absent son and his hope that even if this reunification never happens, his son will be okay
wherever he is. In my favourite track of the record, the deeply affecting Lost Without You, a
dying woman gives instructions to her children about how she expects them to care for their
father after her death.
Although, at times, Dark Matter can feel a little uneven, this is mainly due to a combination
of the wide range of Randy Newman’s interests and the scope of ambition of the record. In
all, Dark Matter is well worth a listen and provides a welcome reminder of how much can be
achieved within the space of one short album.