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?

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4 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.

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