Brave, challenging and a little bit sick
“[i]He’s got such a twisted, sick mind![/i]” The words of Hollywood’s King Of Crazy, Dennis Hopper, speaking in 1991. Five years earlier, Hopper had worked with [a]David Lynch[/a] on [i]Blue Velvet[/i], a dark and subversive peek behind the curtains of white-picket-fence America and still quite possibly Lynch’s most accomplished movie. Hopper’s nitrous-inhaling sociopath Frank Booth remains one of the most loathsome shitbags ever to appear on screen; immediately after reading the script, Hopper called Lynch and said: “[i]Don’t worry about Frank Booth. I am Frank Booth.[/i]”
When a man who had the propensity for mad-dog trips into the darkness like Dennis Hopper identifies so vividly with your most disturbed creation, you are officially a twisted soul. The devil knows his own, as they say.
This ability to think the unthinkable and marry it to a belief in innocence, redemption, heroes and angels has made Lynch one of the most revered masters of modern cinema. The stories of his strangeness (shaving mice to feel the texture of their skin; driving to Bob’s Big Boy Diner at 2.30pm every day for nine years to scribble caffeine- and sugar-fuelled ideas on napkins) are as famous as his life’s work.
It is therefore impossible to come to this album not loaded with preconceptions about what you’ll be served. Pat yourself on the back, though, because your preconceptions were right. It’s weird, unsettling, in thrall to ’50s Americana and constructed with the same meticulous craft and obsessive compulsion you’d expect from Lynch. It begins with ‘[b]Pinky’s Dream[/b]’, a ragged stomp-along featuring [a]Karen O[/a] on vocals, that owes a debt to both [a]Sonic Youth[/a]’s ‘[b]Tunic (Song For Karen)[/b]’ and [a]PJ Harvey[/a]’s ‘[b]C’mon Billy[/b]’, and sees O give her most pulverising and unhinged performance since ‘[b]Fever To Tell[/b]’. It’s great, but it’s a curveball, as the man himself takes on lead vocals for the remainder of the record (with help from Vocoders and freaky robotronics).
Working alongside engineer Dean Hurley (who also plays on all 14 tracks and soundtracked 2006’s [i]Inland Empire[/i]), Lynch explores widescreen ideas – one minute it’s warm synths and 4/4 beats, the next it’s fuzzy guitars and creepy lo-fi swirls – that ensure that the narratives of the songs blossom and his gift for making everyone feel uncomfortable comes to the fore: should you laugh, cry, be turned on or be repulsed? These are familiar Lynchian characters, loners with the same messed-up sense of belonging as Eraserhead’s Henry Spencer, motherfuckers looking for the same sadistic kicks as our old friend Frank Booth. Listen to title track ‘[b]Crazy Clown Time[/b]’ alone, and the wailing sound effects beneath the Mariachi-blues drone and Lynch’s helium falsetto become the terrified screams of the homecoming queen and starting quarterback being butchered on the back lawn. “[i]Paulie had a red shirt/Susie, she ripped her shirt off completely[/i]” he squeaks in full party mode, but it’s the kind of party you’re never coming home from.
‘[b]So Glad[/b]’’s refrain of “[i]so glad you’re gone[/i]” highlights Lynch’s vulnerability, but as ever it’s the moments when it all takes a turn for the surreal that it feels like a great record, such as on sinister lullaby ‘[b]Noah’s Ark[/b]’, where what appear to be reassuring words of comfort (“[i]I know what song to sing on this dark night of rain/It’s the song of love[/i]”) are delivered with menace from what sounds like the throat of deranged demon Bob from [i]Twin Peaks[/i].
Though musically it’s not as accomplished as his early work with Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise, this is still exactly what you’d want from a [a]David Lynch[/a] record: brave, challenging and a little bit sick. His pal Dennis Hopper would be proud.