Dark Matter

by John Holbo on August 5, 2017

I’m home after a hectic summer. Regular blogging can resume.

Two nice, long-view, effectively retrospective new music reviews: Douglas Wolk on Brian Eno re-releases from the 70’s; Carl Wilson on Randy Newman’s newest.

(Full disclosure: I know Douglas and Carl – a bit – so I could be praising their review work because of that personal acquaintance. It’s possible I think their reviews are terrible and foolish, but I want them to remain as nodes in my social network.)

As I believe I mentioned, I spent a lot of driving time this summer listening and re-listening to Newman’s back catalogue, all the major studio albums. I got into Bad Love for the first time. “Shame” is a great track. It got me impatient for the new album – Dark Matter – to drop. It’s now out. It’s great. This guy has got this singer-songwriter thing down. He could go far. The satire-with-sentiment, gravel-goes-down-better-with-syrup recipe. Why does the title track have only 3,300 YouTube hits after 3 days? Doesn’t YouTube get what funny is? (Why hasn’t anyone done a thing where they make unofficial videos for Newman’s really outrageous songs out of bits of Pixar and Disney films? Seems logical.)

Randy Newman wrote the greatest song about ELO ever. It’s a better joke about “Mr. Blue Sky” than the Baby Groot dance. (The new ELO album is actually good, too. Great power pop track: “Dirty To The Bone”.)

I am deeply appreciative of how Newman once made Paul Simon croon the lines, “A Year Ago, I met a girl/I thought we’d hit a massive groove/But she dumped me”.

Also, one of the best songs about New Wave music: “Mikey’s”. “Didn’t used to be this ugly music playing all the time/ Where are we, on the moon?”

Now, Brian Eno. (Belle loves Brian Eno every bit as much as I love Randy Newman, but we both appreciate both, I think.) Similar figures in a way. Almost too smart for their own good – eclectic, influential, but mostly through others. Did a lot of stuff in the 70’s. I’ll just sign off with Brian Eno yodeling in 1974. That’s amazing.



maidhc 08.06.17 at 10:20 am

It’s funny how these things happen. Last summer we drove the Trans-Canada Highway and our soundtrack was Ian & Sylvia, Sver and Nordic Fiddlers Bloc. Not too long after we got home, Nordic Fiddlers Bloc showed up for a concert where we ran into some old friends we hadn’t seen in years.

This summer we had a lot of commitments at home so the only place we went was up to the Seattle area, where our car broke down and we had to sit around waiting for it to be fixed. No soundtracks for this summer.

When I go out walking I’m listening to Unearthing Mysteries, but I’m afraid that is not available right now. I grabbed the audio a few years ago.


Dave Maier 08.06.17 at 1:39 pm

I was a huge Eno fan back in the day (that is, the 80s, looking back at the 70s). Wolk’s piece is pretty good, but from there one should click through as well to Mike Powell’s take on Eno’s greatest achievement, Another Green World. The most valuable thing about Eno for me was the who’s who of 70s-80s progressive musicians he collaborated with and/or strongly influenced, whose own music led me to other music still: Jon Hassell, Cluster, Robert Fripp, Brand X, Robert Wyatt, Phil Manzanera, Fred Frith, Michael Brook, Harold Budd, Richard Pinhas, etc., etc. That was a golden age indeed.


Michael Connolly 08.06.17 at 4:54 pm

Wow. Thanks for the link to Seven Deadly Finns. How did I miss that in 1974? Outstanding.


PatinIowa 08.06.17 at 8:28 pm

“Why hasn’t anyone done a thing where they make unofficial videos for Newman’s really outrageous songs out of bits of Pixar and Disney films?”

I’ve always understood that Disney is known to be ruthless and aggressive in protecting its intellectual property rights, so the answer to the question may be “fear of being sued.”

However this speculation may be out of date:


Icastico 08.07.17 at 2:15 pm

There are few objective truths in the world of art, but one is that Randy Newman at his best is a mediocre talent – one that has penned some of the worst music ever foisted on the public. Or maybe that is just my opinion. ;^) Eno, on the other hand is great far more often than not. Thanks to promoting your friends review.


Paul Kern 08.07.17 at 3:45 pm

For all the ironic tunes he writes (and I love them) it’s his serious pensive songs that get me…”In Germany before the War”, “Love Song”, “I think it’s going to Rain today” etc.


Doug K 08.07.17 at 7:56 pm

thank you, had not seen the Carl Wilson review, enjoyed it.

My favorite Newman song, New Orleans Wins the War,

Momma used to take me to Audubon Park
Show me the ways of the world
She said “here comes a white boy there goes a black one, that one’s an octoroon
This little cookie here’s a macaroon, that big round thing’s a red balloon
And the paper down here’s called the Picayune
And here’s a New Orleans tune”


Belle Waring 08.08.17 at 2:38 am

That song about ELO is a masterwork.


js. 08.09.17 at 12:38 am

The fact that Taking Tiger Mountain isn’t rated in the same league as London Calling and Low and Marque Moon, etc. is one of the greatest injustices in the universe. This is all I have to say about this.


JPL 08.09.17 at 6:46 am

I always say (on occasions like this), what about Mose Allison? (Also, this song could do double duty as a response to your more recent post above.)

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