David Lynch is a lot of things to a lot of people – director, writer, photographer, coffee maker, transcendental meditation espouser, nightclub designer – so his debut solo album release is not so much a case of coming out of leftfield as much as it is an inevitable culmination of his interest in music and sound that has played an important part in the texture of his work before it. Having sung vocals in his last feature film to date, 2006’s INLAND EMPIRE, as well as for the excellent Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse collaboration Dark Night of the Soul, a full-length musical voyage seemed a natural progression, and Crazy Clown Time is certainly dripping in Lynchian hopes and fears. But the leap to a purely audio medium is not without its faltering steps.
The confident opening number goes some way to allaying initial fears of this being a self-indulgent passion project, the driving drums and echoing guitar of ‘Pinky’s Dream’, coupled with the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O’s whoops and yelps, creating a tangible sense of doom and urgency. Following in to first single ‘Good Day Today’ maintains the quality, a sparkly strangely catchy tune which is probably the closest approximation to dance music we’re ever likely to see from Lynch. It’s just a shame then that the rest of the album does not continue in a similar vein, not that it would have necessarily resulted in a better album, but it would have been an interesting change of direction. Instead, Crazy Clown Time alternates between sleazy blues rock, fitting into Lynch’s ventures into the seedy underbelly of Americana, and basic electronic loops and beats with just enough scratchiness or fuzziness to mask its simplicity, whilst adding a veneer of moodiness by shorthand.
Sometimes it all comes together, as in ‘So Glad’ or ‘I Know’, with its industrial clangs and organ bubbling menacingly under the surface, but other times it falls apart, not in a spectacular fashion but merely crumbling into the unmemorable, leaving little to no impression. Whereas the title track rattles around in the head for days, having conjured up an air of a bad bedtime story designed to give you nightmares, in an album of 14 songs, few others stick with you beyond their running time. Still, consistently moody filler is perhaps preferable to the only real skippable dud, ‘Strange and Unproductive Thinking’, a seven-and-a-half minute stream of consciousness / life advice sermon a la Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’, but unbelievably even more tedious.
Unexpectedly, where Lynch’s album actually excels is in his vocals. Though often modified or altered or vocoded, his distinctive high-pitched delivery is not what you would ever describe as a beautiful singing voice, but it has an ethereal quality which really lifts the lesser tracks. Treating this less as an album of songs and more as a collection of spoken word tales of darkness with minimal backing accompaniment is more rewarding. It still can’t quite make what is an overlong, harmless when it should be dangerous, piece of work anything more than a curio for fans, and there’s nothing here to touch ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ or ‘Star Eyes (I Can’t Catch It)’, but it serves the experience better.
A fair first stab at the uneasy listening market – and believe me, I’d be booking tickets if a live tour were suddenly announced – but hardly the advent of a hitherto undiscovered musical talent, and without the Lynch name attached, unlikely to have gotten a second look.