Who would have thought visionary headfuck director David Lynch’s first venture into long-player music would have resulted in 14 cute ‘n’ cuddly pop anthems?
Just kidding. If you’ve ever seen one of David Lynch’s nightmarish, nonsensical, unmistakably devastating films, you’ve been ably primed for Crazy Clown Time, the year’s most freakish musical experience (Too bad this couldn’t have been released a week earlier—or perhaps a Halloween-timed release was too obvious…).
Lynch’s films are saturated in darkness. Characters are usually either mentally deranged, socially disturbed or stuck in some sort of paralyzing trauma. Plots? More like black holes—when you enter a David Lynch film, you leave logic at the door, surrendering your brain to colors and awkward juxtapositions and the oozing horrors that leak from your hypnotized id. At his visual finest (Mulholland Dr., Eraserhead, the lost TV classic Twin Peaks), he is master of his own bizarre domain. At his worst (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the tiring, Nic Cage-starring Wild at Heart), the effect is, to borrow a ridiculous quote from one of his own films, “blank as a fart.”
Crazy Clown Time, recorded in Lynch’s personal studio with engineer Big Dean Hurley, isn’t exactly fart-blank, but this visual master shouldn’t quit his day job. Music has always played a crucial role in Lynch’s film and TV projects, partly because his musical collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti, is a master of audible mood-setting (Imagine Twin Peaks without those creeping jazz interludes—totally different show!). Without his longtime partner’s deft compositional skills and genre-specific taste, Lynch too often flounders around in moody, broody texture—most of which feels lacking without a visual counterpart. You know the scenes in Twin Peaks where the teenagers raise ruckus at The Bang Bang Bar, the local roadhouse? Remember that strangled, creepy-ass blues waltz the house band played all the time? That’s pretty much half of Crazy Clown Time: staggering Meg White-level beats, tremolo-drenched minor chords and plenty of bloated atmosphere.
Vocally, Lynch either mumbles like a small child (the icky title track), layers his warped tenor in vocoder (the surprisingly nimble electro-pop of “Good Day Today”), or rants in a tiring monotone (the utterly unlistenable “Strange and Unproductive Thinking”). On the awkward goth-blues of “Football Game,” he sounds like a deranged mental patient gargling a mouthful of jelly beans.
What makes this even more disappointing is that Crazy Clown Time opens with a quartet of wonderful tracks that cover every side of Lynch’s personality. Opener “Pinky’s Dream” is downright breathtaking, guest vocalist Karen O’s sensual melody hovering nervously above a rickety tom-tom pulse and Lynch’s colossal guitar thrusts. “Please Pinky, watch the road!” she mumbles to herself, a desperate, deflated mantra. “Pinky, what’s in your mouth?” You can practically visualize this as a scene in one of Lynch’s films—including the inevitable car-crash ending, complete with a horrifying Karen O scream. The aforementioned “Good Day Today” is jarringly upbeat, but the pulsing beats and weaponized sound effects keep things appropriately weird. Meanwhile, “So Glad” works wonders with a crawling blues refrain, and the nearly whispered “Noah’s Ark” builds tension with scalpel-like precision.
What a giant mess. I can’t exactly recommend this, but in no way would I discourage any die-hard Lynch buff, like myself, from throwing 15 bucks in the Maestro’s direction. One thing’s for sure: You won’t hear anything else like it—until, of course, the next David Lynch movie.