Song of the Day #3,419: ‘Wandering Boy’ – Randy Newman

As I write this, I’ve bought 15 albums so far in 2017. I plan to buy at least one more (U2’s Songs of Experience) and maybe two, if Morrissey’s Low in High School is well-reviewed.

Fewer than 20 new albums in a year is pretty lame by serious music fan standards. Music websites and magazines will publish Top 50 lists that might not even include some of these titles. But I tend to buy music by the artists I like, only occasionally dabbling in new artists, and I’m fine with that.

Over the next two weeks I’ll post brief reactions to the ten albums I haven’t yet mentioned on the blog. The other five are Tift Merritt’s Stitch of the World (which I gave the track-by-track treatment earlier this year), Spoon’s Hot Thoughts, Shakira’s El Dorado, Lorde’s Melodrama and Taylor Swift’s Reputation.

First up (in random order) is Randy Newman’s Dark Matter. This is Newman’s first studio album in nine years and just his third in the last 29. He’s stayed busy between those records, mostly recording soundtracks to Disney films.

I have sung Newman’s praises on this blog enough over the years for there to be no doubt that I’m a fanboy, but I regret to report that Dark Matter is a disappointment. Of the album’s nine songs, only four are up to his usual standards. Those tracks (including today’s lovely SOTD) are all simple piano/vocals ballads.

It’s when Newman gets more ambitious, as in album opener ‘The Great Debate,’ that he falters. That song runs eight minutes and has Newman voicing several characters in a mock trial pitting science against faith. It’s smart, funny satire (something he can do in his sleep) but it’s not very good as a song. And Dark Matter has several tracks that similarly fail under the weight of their high concepts.

I hope Newman doesn’t wait another decade to release new material. At 73 years old, he might want to speed that up by, say, half. In the meantime, I have ten other albums of his I’ll listen to before this one.

Thank you for the party
We’re always glad we came
I’m the only one from the family tonight
But I know they’d say the same

I came here with my father
Then I brought my wife
Three sons, a daughter
Then the last baby boy
The little caboose we called
The light of her life
And that’s who I’m waiting for

Where is my wandering boy tonight?
Where is my wandering boy?
If you see him push him toward the light
Where is my wandering boy?

He went off of that high board there
When he was 5 years old
Laughing like a maniac
Shining in the sun like gold
He was afraid of nothin’ then
He was loved by everyone
I see it clear as I see you
That day there in the sun

I hope he’s warm and I hope he’s dry
And that a stranger’s eye is a friendly eye
And I hope he has someone
Close by his side
And I hope that he’ll come home

Where is my wandering boy tonight?
Where is my wandering boy?
If you see him tell him everything’s alright
Push him toward the light
Where is my wandering boy?

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,419: ‘Wandering Boy’ – Randy Newman

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I’ve only heard this album through once or twice, which is less a reflection of my opinion than it is of how little time I spend playing music nowadays. Still, I agree with your review that the first half with the concentration of political songs doesn’t work as well as the more ballad driven and musical second half.

  2. Amy says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more that Newman faltered with the “ambitious” (self-indulgent) songs and succeeded with the few like today’s SOTD. Meanwhile, I can’t get over that you bought 10 albums this year! The nice thing about Apple music is getting to listen to new music despite no longer having a predilection to purchase albums from artists I don’t know.

  3. Ryozo says:

    Sorry for my long lines.
    When I heard that Randy Newman’s new album was released, I ordered it immediately. When I heard it once or twice, I liked it very much. To get clearer picture, I checked several album reviews, looked up all the difficult words and phrases, and searched the internet. It takes time but it is also fun.
    This was around August last year.
    A few weeks later, an outdoor party was held in a beach town near my place. You could enjoy mainly music, additionaly drink, chat with people, late summer evening atmosphere and sun-setting ocean-view there. A broadcaster, who had originally come from England and had lived in Japan for many years, was invited as a DJ and put on music for us. Visitors could request songs and I had emailed one of the staff to play “On the Beach” from RN’s new album. I didn’t know whether the DJ would accept my request or not but luckily he played what I wanted. I was glad and even felt honored because he was well-known here to avid music fan.
    His mother tongue was English (He is also fluent in Japanese) and most of the music he put on was in English. There were a few visitors whose mother tongue was also English but unfortunately most of us didn’t have a good command of English. We could not get the whole picture with only hearing it once.
    I believe the beach sung in “On the Beach” was the one in L.A. probably near the place where Randy had spent his childhood.
    While we were listening to what I requested, I remembered I had been to Santa Monica with my wife and other beaches like Manhattan, Redondo, and Hermosa in L.A. by myself.
    Basically I like this album, especially songs such as “Sonny Boy,“ “Brothers,” and “On the Beach.”
    I quite agree in that his next new album will be released soon within a few years.

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