On the Beat

What does Oscar-winning singer Randy Newman have to do with RTP?

Veteran singer-songwriter-composer Randy Newman in his studio at home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., on July 27, 2017. Newman released his first new studio album in nine years, “Dark Matter,” on August 4, 2017.
Veteran singer-songwriter-composer Randy Newman in his studio at home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., on July 27, 2017. Newman released his first new studio album in nine years, “Dark Matter,” on August 4, 2017. TNS

Randy Newman’s “Dark Matter,” his first album of all-new material in close to a decade, is out – and it begins with a local reference in the opening verse of the very first song.

Clocking in at more than eight lavishly orchestrated minutes, “The Great Debate,” is a science-versus-faith argument set to song. And as laid out in the first verse, it takes place right here:

Welcome, welcome, welcome to this great arena! Durham, North Carolina, the heart of the Research Triangle!

We’ve come to this particular place tonight, ’cause we gotta look at things from every angle. We need some answers to some complicated questions if we’re going to get it right.

Newman, the Oscar-winning soundtrack composer, has never shied away from controversy (see: “Short People,” still his biggest hit 40 years later). As shown by the new album’s “Putin,” a tongue-in-cheek ode to the President of Russia rendered in a tone of high absurdist melodrama, the 73-year-old Newman has not lost his edge.

But “The Great Debate” really goes all-out on button-pushing.

In a recent Pitchfork interview, where he explains every song on his album, Newman said that while he’s always pulling for science, he has to concede that faith is what ultimately wins the debate.

“Faith wins because it’s got Dorothy Love Coates, the Golden Gate Quartet, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, everybody,” he tells Pitchfork. “I don’t know whether I am a music lover, strictly – it’s hard to say how I feel about it – but I love good gospel music. No doubt.

“My side, the agnostic, atheist side, has got nothing like that,” he continues. “There’s no great song that’s like, ‘Let’s all not believe and play our agnostic hymnals!’ They got everything: the high ceilings, the confessions—man what a hit idea.”

Alas, he does not elaborate in the interview why the song is set in Research Triangle Park.

You can hear “The Great Debate” here, or below. And the entire “Dark Matter” album, which is garnering lots of critical acclaim, can be heard here.

This is the second prominent Triangle-centric lyrical reference to emerge recently, after Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers’ “Caroline” last month.

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi

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