David Lynch is the premier outsider renaissance man of his era, his undoubted artistic facility, whether working in film, television, printmaking or now music, always tempered by the realisation that he'll never achieve – nor would he probably want – mainstream success.
He's clearly happiest working at the margins, which offer the greatest freedom to realise the stream of ideas uncorked by his use of meditation techniques. It's an old truth, but the less commercial gain is likely to be involved, the less restrictions an artist is likely to face.
Which makes the rather quotidian nature of Lynch's musical endeavours on Crazy Clown Time slightly puzzling. Given his professed profusion of ideas, and the absence of commercial restraints, is this collection of slow, sombre pulses, skeletal twang guitars and treated vocal tracks really the most pressing product of his imagination? It's not a bad album as such, but to anyone familiar with Lynch's other work, it's entirely predictable in sound and style, from the vaguely foreboding tone to the retro-teen-dream flavour of the whammy-bar guitar, and the melancholy synth or organ pads looming over several songs. In its favour, it sustains a strong sense of character throughout: with its imagery of empty streets, moonlight, riverbank, loneliness and obsession ("I guess you might say I was sorta stalking you, baby"), a track like "Speed Roadster" inhabits classic Lynch territory, but as with much of the album, its fatalistic trudge-pulse ultimately kind of seeps into one's soul.
Likewise, the haunted, throbbing mystery of "Movin' On" ably evokes the discomfiture of creeping personal dysfunction: "I see myself, and I don't recognise a thing". The mood throughout is heightened by the use of vocal effects, which serve as a veil between the listener and the true character of these protagonists. Many of the lyrics are whispered, like shared intimacies or shaming secrets. Even when minimally treated, there's something otherworldly about Lynch's delivery: he's always had a voice somewhat like a cartoon character, and he uses it effectively here to evoke menacing, childlike dream-states in songs such as "She Rise Up" and "Stone's Gone Up".
Lynch's voice sounds like a mouthful of ashes in "Football Game", where over big, reverberant guitar chords wreathed in doom, he recounts his quiet anger at seeing his girl with another man: "You better run, baby/I hope you can". Elsewhere, his torrential monotone recitation about cosmic awareness and tooth decay in "Strange and Unproductive Thinking" sounds uncomfortably like HAL from 2001 becoming self-aware, though not in a good way: "Sometimes in the evening a feeling of the type which haunts young children in the forest will come in on a dark wind and all the night will fade leaving a low sound penetrating the eyes which follow the dark shapes running for safe nest just out of reach of small white teeth and noses filled with dirt...", etc, in a spiralling stream-of-consciousness that wraps itself around you like tendrils of some malevolent plant.
But while there's no denying the sustained ambience and character Lynch has devised for Crazy Clown Time, it's not the musically interesting endeavour one might have hoped for, and the journey never really takes you somewhere you're not already familiar with.
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