“It’s a Jungle Out There” is a song from Randy Newman’s latest album Dark Matter, which was released August 4th. Talk about timely. If the last week/month/year has revealed anything it’s that it is very much a jungle out there. While that can be intimidating at times, leave it to Randy Newman to deliver an album to call out the big issues of the world today in a charming, satiric manner which is enjoyable even if you don’t necessarily agree with the message. That’s exactly what Dark Matter is. It’s an album which starts off with an eight minute track called “The Great Debate” which outlines a debate between people of faith and people of science about dark matter, global warming, and evolution. If that doesn’t grab you then maybe his song “Putin” or the John Kennedy-Robert Kennedy conversation in the song “Brothers” will be more your style. Amidst the political and historical references there are several songs which showcase why Randy Newman’s career has spanned over 40 years…his uniquely Randy Newman charm.
Dark Matter contains songs with messages you may not agree with. “The Great Debate” is essentially about the devolution of mindful debate into a stone-throwing faith versus reason free for all. Depending on your perspective this song can be interpreted for or against either side represented. Even Newman himself is represented and disparaged within the song. The joke in this song isn’t on one particular group, but on all of us because when we lose the ability to talk sensibly, things just unravel. What makes the song entertaining is that it is absolutely right. The beauty of Newman’s satire, especially as it relates to politics, science, and religion, is that regardless of your personal viewpoint, it forces you to think about the other side. Too often we dismiss other points of view simply because it comes from a different perspective than our own. When we do that we ultimately lose the ability to reasonably debate and just spew talking points which doesn’t help anybody get anywhere.
Newman doesn’t stop his current event narrations with “The Great Debate”. Another song, and my personal favorite from the album, is simply titled “Putin”. Again, the current political landscape and the listener’s perspective will probably lead to different interpretations of the song. As for me, I just think it’s funny. The song explores various aspects of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Newman paints quite a picture for the listener, covering everything from Putin’s shirtless photo shoots to the notion of Putin wanting a war for better sea-front resorts on the Mediterranean; and, of course, the ultimate goal to propel Russia to its greatest heights. There’s even a mention of the state of Kentucky in the song, which was a pleasant surprise. I think. Much like how his other geopolitical masterpiece, “Political Science”, makes light of preemptive nuclear war, “Putin” uses extravagant humor to draw serious attention to how much of an egomaniac Putin appears to be.
(Minor NSFWish warning for language)
Maybe political satire isn’t your cup of tea. Of the nine tracks on the album the two previously mentioned are the most directly political. The rest of the album is primarily the Randy Newman most people know from his movie work and Family Guy cameo. His dopey charm really shines through on “She Chose Me” and “On the Beach”. Meanwhile, “Lost Without You” and “Wandering Boy” are emotional, heavy stories of loss that, when partnered with Newman’s voice, are so sweetly sad that it makes you just want to go hug a loved one. “Sonny Boy” is a historical account of musician “Sonny Boy” Williamson’s career and murder, while “Brothers” is a musical conversation between the Kennedy brothers about Washington Redskins football and the Cuban Revolution. See, there’s something for everyone to enjoy!
Ultimately Dark Matter is an all-encompassing roller coaster which will make you feel a lot of different things. The first time I listened to the album was while I was running and I got so into it I forgot how much I hate running (especially on hills). The second listen was a much more thoughtful experience, but that’s ultimately the real beauty of this album. Newman is a great musician and lyricist, which is why he’s been around for so long. Dark Matter is 100% worth a listen, and if we can’t all agree to laugh at Putin, what can we agree on?