Nonesuch Records has just released Dark Matter, Randy Newman’s first album of new material in nine years. The record is the follow-up to 2008’s acclaimed Harps and Angels, which the Guardian praised for its “sumptuous melodies, devastating pathos and thorny, irony-laden character songs,” calling it, “the work of a true master of popular song.” Dark Matter was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by long-time Newman collaborators Mitchell Froom, Lenny Waronker, and David Boucher. The album’s nine songs include the 2016 digitally released “Putin,” plus songs about the Kennedy brothers, Sonny Boy Williamson, science vs. religion, love and loss, and more.
Newman, who is known for writing from the perspective of various narrators, many of whom are unreliable, tried something new on Dark Matter: “If there is anything consistent about the songs, there is often more than one voice, in the big ones, and it’s different for me, a difficult thing to bring off, to make it comprehensible,” he says. “I think it works. They cover more ground than most songs do and portray a number of different characters. Audiences are smart. They’ll understand the songs. I hope they like them as well.
“I’m proud of the record,” Newman continues. “I think it’s entertaining—I hope it’s entertaining—and that’s eighty percent of what I try to do. Also, I’m doing something different than I’ve ever done before. It’s a step forward for me. And considering how long I’ve been doing this, I’m kinda proud of that.”
After starting his songwriting career as a teenager, Newman began recording as a singer and pianist in 1968 with a self-titled album. Throughout the 1970s, he released several other acclaimed albums such as 12 Songs, Sail Away, and Good Old Boys. In addition to his solo recordings and regular international touring, Newman began composing and scoring for films in the 1980s. The list of movies he has worked on since then includes The Natural, Awakenings, Ragtime, all three Toy Story pictures, Seabiscuit, James and the Giant Peach, A Bug’s Life, and most recently, Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3.
Between 2003 and 2016, Nonesuch released three volumes of The Randy Newman Songbook, comprising solo recordings of songs from throughout Newman’s five-decade career, along with a three-CD box set of all volumes (a four-LP, limited-edition vinyl version included bonus tracks). The New York Times said of the first disc: “The great craftsmanship is more apparent in the stripped-down context,” and the Associated Press said, “Few singer-songwriters could inject more new life into solo piano versions of their work than Randy Newman.” In 2011, the label released a live CD and DVD recorded at London’s intimate LSO St. Luke’s, accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra led by Robert Ziegler.
Randy Newman’s many honors include six Grammys, three Emmys, and two Academy Awards, as well as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013—the same year he was given an Ivor Novello PRS for Music Special International Award. Newman also was presented with a PEN New England Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence Award in 2014.