Music Reviews
Crazy Clown Time

David Lynch Crazy Clown Time

(Sunday Best) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10

It may be something of a fool's errand attempting to review something by David Lynch. Consider Blue Velvet, now seen as one of the great defining films of the eighties, yet it was met with confusion and outright contempt on release. However, convention insists that we must anyway and that he won't get any special dispensation for being a lunatic genius, so on with discussing his debut album, Crazy Clown Time. Just don't be surprised if these views change over time (unfortunately though, they probably won't).

At first glance the album marks something of a dramatic career shift for Lynch, an abrupt leap into electronic music after ditching film (his last full length, INLAND EMPIRE, came out more than four years ago now). In truth though, as with fine art, he's dabbled with music throughout much of his career, from the sound design for his debut Eraserhead, its industrial grind seen as so evocative that it was released by Lynch as a standalone soundtrack album, through to writing for Twin Peaks and the town's resident chanteuse Julee Cruise. And it's not just been born from his soundtrack work; the BlueBob project with regular cohort John Neff did bleed into Mulholland Dr. somewhat, but most of what the two produced was far too mad even for that mindfuck of a movie, and only a couple of years ago he collaborated with Dangermouse and Sparklehorse on the Dark Night Of The Soul album.

While we're on the subject, it's not like Crazy Clown Time is that much of a musical departure either. Early material from the album may have suggested Lynch, a man in his mid 60s let's not forget, had discovered an interest in house music. This was later somewhat contradicted by the man himself claiming that the album would be a collection of blues songs. It turns out that neither statement is entirely accurate. Round the edges the album might flirt with such styles, as well as others, such as Noah's Ark, which (just about) manages to construct trip-hop out of that most loathed of film trailer cliches: the dramatic needle scratch. At its heart however, the album will prove less surprising to anybody who's paid attention to a Lynch soundtrack. Crazy Clown Time is practically stuffed with that old reliable Lynchian sound: fifties-throwback rock 'n' roll, constructed of large slabs of guitar chords, swathed in flange and delay effects. In other words think what music would sound like if it had been recorded in Twin Peaks' Black Lodge; anachronistic, dramatic and slightly kitsch. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as after all the sound's worked for him for this long (and attempting to rip it off hasn't done Anna Calvi any harm either).

There is, however, one difference in Crazy Clown Time that will be hard to miss though, as Lynch has decided to put his singing voice is on frequent display. It's a strange sound, seemingly frail, wavering and often apparently disinterested, and although he's used it to his advantage in the past (such as the tremulous tones of Ghost Of Love from INLAND EMPIRE's soundtrack), it doesn't quite convince here. To be fair he just about pulls it off on I Know, where he emulates latter-day Dylan over a ghostly Hammond organ, but when applied to something that requires more drama, like So Glad, it completely falls flat. Attempting to tackle Lynch's twin musical obsessions of electronica and blues in one go, there's nothing wrong with the song itself, however, Lynch doesn't really have the rugged, ballsy sound that so encapsulates the blues and proves necessary to bring lines like “Free in my truck” and “Ball and chain gone” to life. Considering how important that the force of emotion is to his work (Mulholland Dr. for example, took a very generic story and made it hysterical, bewildering and overwhelmingly terrifying), putting something so flat at the heart of the album is not a good idea. It's notable that the strongest track here is the one with the guest vocalist: opener Pinky's Dream features Karen O on vocals, and effectively asks her to relive her part in the video for Liars' Plaster Casts Of Everything, to equally psychotically brilliant effect.

For the most part though, the sense of strange disconnect is not just between the lushness of the musical backdrop and the faltering vocals, but also the extremely prosaic, repetitive nature of Lynch's lyrics. In his film-work his approach to dialogue resulted in some wonderfully creepy non-sequiturs, with this album he was probably having an off day (unless, worryingly, the absence of images, and actors' interpretations, expose his language as being quite empty). Really there's no excuse for a grown man singing lines like “Sally's got a bluebird/Petey's got a dog/Betty's got a yellow basket/Inside she's got a frog” as he does in the disturbed child perspective of These Are My Friends. And the title track raises further problems; it both manages to bring back unpleasant memories of Wild At Heart cast-member Crispin Glover's Clowny Clown Clown (in his film work Lynch is an artist so distinctive that his name's become a widely-used adjective, in music, as with much of his fine art, he's revealed to be following in others' footsteps), and its crude lyrics and grunts and groans that aim to be dark and disturbing and maybe even a little bit sexy, end up (like the worst of his recent paintings) feeling rather grubby instead. On top of that, when delivered in Lynch's whiny falsetto, it's really irritating too. Perhaps the album's low point though is Strange And Unproductive Thinking, which despite being built on a solid enough groove, becomes unbearable thanks to a heavily vocodered speech about the power of positive thinking. It goes on for seven and a half minutes, and at least 90 seconds of this is about dentistry (admittedly, it is considerably less time consuming than his transcendental meditation treatise Catching The Big Fish, but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable).

The reason why it's unlikely that Crazy Clown Time will be open to any sort of Blue Velvet-style reappraisals in the future is that the problem with the album isn't that it's offensive, incomprehensible or difficult, but rather that its sadly just a bit boring (and, even worse, suggests that those who angrily attacked him in the past for making things up as he went along might have had a point). It would be tempting to say that Lynch is out of his comfort zone here, but he's proven with his previous, more successful forays into the field that that's not really the case. To be fair, if it weren't for Lynch's lacklustre vocals and lyrics there might be a fairly solid collection of atmospheric retro rock 'n' roll here, but as it seems to be coming at the expense of his film career that's still not quite good enough.