On his first album in nearly a decade, Randy Newman addresses evolution and religion and Charles Darwin and Jesus; nods cheekily at “Short People;” and delivers a song as a game show. True to form, Newman wraps it all in spoken-word melody, sung comedy, contemplative space music, gospel choruses, rhythm-and-blues bridges and more.
And that’s just the first track.
At eight minutes, “The Great Debate” eats up about 20 percent of Dark Matter and serves as a delicious appetizer to what follows.
As iconoclastic as ever, Newman hilariously re-imagines the saga of Sonny Boy Williamson I and II from the former’s after-life perspective in “Sonny Boy.” He composes a new chapter of the Great American Songbook with the beautifully orchestrated – and tenderly introspective – “She Chose Me.”
He plays big-band swing a la Glenn Miller on the irresistible “It’s a Jungle Out There.” And Newman – who always sounds like his mouth is stuffed with cotton balls – goes all in on British music-hall stylistism on the coming-of-age crooner “On the Beach.”
And he’s often laugh-out-loud hysterical in the process.
“When he takes his shirt off, it makes me wanna be a lady,” Newman sings on the timely and acerbic “Putin.”
The irascible songwriter and composer of movie scores sounds exactly as he did 30 years ago. And although all Randy Newman music sounds similar in some ways, it also sounds like nothing else.
Dark Matter continues that tradition.