RANDY NEW­MAN Dark Mat­ter

Unit­ing sar­donic gospel songs with com­plex or­ches­tral scores. By John Lewis

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S ince the early 1980s, Randy new­man’s day job has been writ­ing or­ches­tral scores for big Hol­ly­wood movies. Some might fea­ture the oc­ca­sional knock­about song – like “You’ve Got A Friend in Me” from Toy Story or “if i Didn’t Have You” from Mon­sters Inc – but new­man’s pri­mary role is to pro­vide de­tailed, time­coded, in­stru­men­tal un­der­scores that bring the vi­su­als to life.

Th­ese sound­tracks have al­ways been kept quite sep­a­rate from new­man’s in­creas­ingly rare, once-a-decade stu­dio al­bums, where his croaky, sar­donic vi­gnettes are usu­ally backed by an ornery bar­room band, but Dark Mat­ter fi­nally sees him unit­ing those two pro­fes­sions. Here each satir­i­cal sketch is lav­ishly ar­ranged like a minia­ture film score, with mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters, shift­ing points of view and dra­matic lurches in mu­si­cal style. ear­lier new­man tracks – like the Brechtian “A Piece Of The Pie” (on 2008’s Harps And

An­gels) or the episodic paean to Karl Marx “The World isn’t Fair” (on 1999’s Bad Love) – have at­tempted this, but none were as am­bi­tious as any­thing on this al­bum.

The opener, “The Great De­bate”, is an eight-minute comic opera that imag­ines a lat­ter­day Scopes Mon­key Trial be­tween a panel of sci­en­tists and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from every chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tion. it’s filled with sly mu­si­cal and rhetor­i­cal gags: when a physi­cist is asked to ex­plain “dark mat­ter”, the un­der­score is re­placed by a se­ries of spooky, dis­cor­dant sci-fi flour­ishes. “Just a mo­ment, sir,” says the judge to the hap­less sci­en­tist. “Do your­self a favour and use our mu­sic/Your mu­sic is mak­ing peo­ple sick.” Af­ter each sci­en­tific ar­gu­ment is ridiculed by gospelsing­ing be­liev­ers, the char­ac­ters in the song turn on “Randy New­man” him­self (“A self-de­scribed athe­ist and com­mu­nist”) for cre­at­ing a straw­man ar­gu­ment.

Through­out the al­bum, the melodies stop and start like film scores: they change key, tempo, time sig­na­ture and even mu­si­cal genre to suit the flow of the story. “Brothers” imag­ines a con­ver­sa­tion in the White House be­tween John F Kennedy and his brother Bobby in 1961, lurch­ing from a dis­cus­sion of the Washington Red­skins’ no­to­ri­ous re­fusal to sign black play­ers to the im­mi­nent Bay Of Pigs in­va­sion (a hawk­ish Bobby is over­ruled by Jack, whose only in­ter­est in cuba is his love for the singer celia cruz). “Putin” is a broader satire, a bom­bas­tic, cos­sack-themed stomp in praise of the Rus­sian chief (“He can power a nu­clear re­ac­tor/From the left side of his brain”).

The elab­o­rate ar­range­ments con­tinue even on the more or­tho­dox songs. “Sonny Boy” is a jaunty rag­time num­ber where the vet­eran Ten­nessee blues­man Sonny Boy Wil­liamson (1914-1948) nar­rates

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