David Lynch … bluesman?
The director premiered "Crazy Clown Time" — his first solo album — for three dozen guests seated in the Soho House’s penthouse theater on Monday night. You can just imagine the early reviews:
“Damn good cacophony!”
“That hum you like is going to come back in style!”
“Fire, rock with me!”
Well, “rocking” isn’t really the order of the day, of course, in Lynch’s lugubriously dreamy yet dangerous-sounding universe.
Actually, Lynch’s description of the album as a “modern blues” record wasn’t terribly far off the mark — if your definition of the blues stretches to include, say, Tom Waits’ most experimental recordings.
Lynch made only a brief appearance to introduce the hour-plus album. The rest was left to two leggy models, ushered in through a side door between songs so that one could hold up the track number – boxing match-style – while the other would sweetly intone, into a reverb-laden microphone, “The title is, ‘The Night Bell With Lightning.'”
The auteur has taken a great interest in music before, from the song he co-wrote for “Eraserhead” in 1977 through a recent album-length collaboration with Danger Mouse. But this is the first time we’ve heard him croon through an entire album — excepting one lead vocal here by Karen O.
You won't hear anything too closely resembling his Jimmy Stewart speaking voice: Lynch is usually either singing through electronic enhancements or adopting a high-pitched character voice that sounds like Neil Young on a sick day.
The most comical song — not to preclude the possibility he might be serious — is the orally fixated “Strange and Unproductive Thinking,” a stream of consciousness about how dental health is connected to our collective mental health, read through a Vocoder-type filter.
Against an electronic beat, Lynch recites a manifesto about “dark and evil forces which would have us living forever in confusion refusing even to acknowledge that we even existed or that there was such a thing as a bad tooth or a toothache. Bringing our discussion to the reality of practical considerations, it is interesting to note the possibilities of dental hygiene and the remarkable idea of a world free of tooth decay and all other problems associated with the teeth, tongue, or oral cavity.” He describes how “once beautiful mental images” and the “primary building blocks of happiness” can be brought down by, you know, plaque.
If anyone was destined to put the dental in transcendental meditation, it’s Lynch.
Wordy as that tune is, he gets radically minimalist on other numbers. Take the title track, in which Lynch pitches his voice as high as a boy’s while describing a kids’ party:
“Suzy, she ripped her shirt off completely…/Kimmy jumped all around, so high…/Buddy screamed so loud, he spit/We all ran around the back yard/It was crazy clown time/It was real fun," he sings, and it's all innocent fun – except for the musical bed, laden with disturbing guitar effects that make the party sound like a descent into hell, or Laura Palmer’s last bacchanal.
Most often, the album produces slow shuffles that rely on Lynch’s tremolo guitar fixation. That musical love once resulted in an actual hit, you'll recall, when the “Wild at Heart” soundtrack launched Chris Isaak’s career-making “Wicked Game.” On his own distinctly uncommercial musical turf, Lynch loves the uncertainty that whammy bar produces, as if that sweet surf-guitar sound could suddenly veer off into an aural nightmare with just the touch of a pinky.
Typical of the album's vaguely spooky laments is “Speed Roadster,” an anthem of obsession that has Lynch squeaking, “I know you fucked Al/He’s supposed to be my pal/I guess you’d say I might be stalkin’ you.”
It’s not Sting, but you wouldn’t expect anything less peculiar when Gordon Cole gets the blues.
Here's a video of Lynch singing back in 2008: