David Lynch, ‘The Big Dream’ – Album Review
Even before the release of his 2011 solo debut, ‘Crazy Clown Time,’ it wasn’t difficult to imagine what music from David Lynch might sound like. Lynch’s longtime collaborator and film composer, Angelo Badalamenti, helped create a cohesive sound for the director’s films, achieving a striking mixture of malevolent atmospherics and darkly ironic allusions to golden-age pop. In such films as 'Mullholland Drive' and 'Blue Velvet,' the music reflected themes of deep subconscious and sociological turmoil. A couple of Lynch’s most definitive cinematic moments are even soundtracked by Roy Orbison classics.
Lynch is all about inversion, playing on preconceived surface-level archetypes and somehow rendering them in deeply unsettling nightmare colors, revealing repressed perversions and darkness beneath everyday, seemingly innocuous imagery. And since his filmmaking debut with 1977’s 'Eraserhead,' he’s amassed an iconic visual palette of damaged Americana: big cars, greased hair, noir-ish club interiors, dancing girls, soft velvet -- all tinted with that ironic late-‘50s, early-‘60s shade of black.
Working with producer David Hurley on ‘Crazy Clown Time,’ Lynch adapted his aesthetic to pop music wholesale with a hazy, atmospheric blend of electronics and blues. Listening to the disc is like gazing into the plumes of cigarette smoke ascending from a hollowed-out ashtray. ‘The Big Dream’ is the follow-up, and it continues down the same basic path as Lynch’s debut while tightening things up in the songwriting and production departments. Lynch has developed an undeniably unique sound, and on ‘The Big Dream,’ it’s been all but fully realized. It plays like a post-’Kid A,’ post-bedroom-musician take on the blues and shares strands of DNA with recent soul-bent XL-related outings like Bobby Womack’s ‘The Bravest Man In the Universe’ and Gil Scott-Heran’s ‘I’m New Here.’
But as to be expected from a Lynch project, the sounds here are subverted for atmospheric depth and thematic darkness rather than simple re-appropriation. The title track revolves around a jagged organ loop, while the prominent sound is a hi-hat tapping into a vast darkness. ‘Star Dream Girl’ sounds like a classic blues stomp blaring from a broken radio inside an abandoned house. Even slow dance ballads like ‘Cold Wind Blowing’ and the aching and vulnerable closer, ‘Are You Sure,’ arrive beneath thick layers of smog.
The thing about Lynch’s films is for as weird as they’re made out to be, there’s a painstaking and meticulous logic at work beneath the surface. There’s too much of a thematic through-line to write any of his work off as sheer randomness. Lynch’s storytelling mechanics are simply too sound. The problem with ‘The Big Dream,’ and ‘Crazy Clown Time’ before it, is that Lynch himself -- with his nasally half-sing tenor -- seems to be rehashing that Lynchian iconography without any of the thematic weight behind it. It’s all surface -- impressionistic at best, scategorical at worst.
Still, there’s a lot to like about ‘The Big Dream.’ Musically, it more than justifies itself with its grayscale vision of electro blues, and as a performer, Lynch lends a unique voice to the proceedings. In a recent interview, Lynch decried the floundering state of the film industry, casting further doubt on whether he’ll ever follow up 2006’s 'Inland Empire.' If music becomes the 69-year-old’s main mode of expression, ‘The Big Dream’ proves there’s a kernel that could become something more significant. But he still has a ways to go before he matches the work that made him famous in the first place.