As modern renaissance men go, David Lynch has been incredibly prolific, turning his hand to design, animation and writing over the years. He also formed The David Lynch Foundation for Concsiousness-Based Education and Peace and continues in his attempts to raise $7 billion with which to comprehensively fund it. He also has his own brand of coffee beans.
However, his most conspicuous works away from his legendary contribution to cinema have been his numerous forays into the world of music. Though Lynch has been working in this arena since a stab at lyric writing for Julee Cruise in the early Nineties, it’s only over the last few years that he’s seemed to dedicate himself more thoroughly to the medium, breaking through with his contributions to the Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse collaboration Dark Night Of The Soul in 2010, soon after issuing a couple of intriguing singles then his debut solo album proper, the bluesy avant-electro of Crazy Clown Time.
The Big Dream continues Lynch’s train of thought from that album – he’s collaborating with engineer/musician Dean Hurley once more, the recordings again taking place at Lynch’s Asymmetrical Studios in LA, his predilections and druthers as pronounced, as typical and as all-consuming as ever.
Self-described as a 'modern blues' album, The Big Dream is as warped and wondrous a vision as Lynch has produced in recent times, teeming with his usual cast of naïve dreamers, warped killers and femme fatales. It’s also home to his typically unusual conventions and regular patterns of expression – simple, heartfelt sentiments fed through a world of distortion, reversion, dissociation and dislocation to achieve that most Lynchian effect – the beautiful loss, the lusting romance.
This is a world of stars, of dreams, of wishes, playfully delivered and occasionally, suddenly drenched in pitch black threat, perversity even. Take the incongruity of ‘Say It’, a slanted 12-bar-blues sat right in the heart of the record that crackles “You girls are so sweet” and demands “Tell me you love me… Say it baby” as the track is minced, dented and regurgitated; primal threatening desire gone electro.
This is though, in great contrast to the warped vinyl bar-room pop of ‘Last Call’, an auburn glowing collage of beats and surreality with a simple heart – “One foot had a red sock, the other had blue / It’s Tuesday, baby, where are you?” – run through by the former Eagle Scout’s processed, often atonal, warble. Another child’s eye standout is ‘Are You Sure’, a Stipe-like torch song that would have fitted on any of the last three REM records had they been any good – “River like a hand / Jump up and be a cloud again” he implores, starry-eyed. It has moments of real ingenuity and beauty.
Sticking with hope and possibility we have ‘The Big Dream’ itself, an uneasy lurch into molasses bass hum, Lynch’s cracked-magic Daniel Johnston voice never truly melodic but finding enough variation to suggest melody. “We dream together” he whispers “Love is the name in the wind”. Smiling sentiments carved with dark modern tools.
The true highlight here is the shimmering ‘Cold Wind Blowin’, in which he casts himself in the classic woman-done-wrong role to deliver a tremendously sad cabaret of perfect loss. “The game is over, you win” he drawls, Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’ as thoroughly deconstructed here by the 67-year-old as on screen all those years ago in Blue Velvet. Tragedy always manages to rise to the surface in this unreliable world.
Part Willy Wonka, part Dr. Frankenstein, Lynch throws up some genuine fun here too – the Tom Waits stomp n’ skronk of ‘Star Dream Girl’, replete with jittering Fifties guitar and pounding drum; the wobbling industrial western of ‘We Rolled Together’ and the helium-lunged surf-silliness of ‘Sun Can’t Be Seen No More’. There are also moments so unnecessary as to render the album overlong, sometimes making it feel laboured, in need of a confident edit.
The fruitless reinterpretation of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ feels half dead, pedestrian and ill-suited to Lynch’s style – it’s an experiment that falls flat.
‘Wishin’ Well’, directly after it, is another wanderer, a sub-Portishead rumble that sure, is pretty, but, definitely, feels like an afterthought.
Much the same can be said for the album’s extra track, ‘I’m Waiting Here’ featuring Lykke Li, which serves only to extend the record in this incarnation, taking away from the dramatic impact of the album’s true closer, the aforementioned ‘Are You Sure’.
This is a all as you would expect from Lynch – brilliant, inconsistent, pleasing, frustrating. It continues one of the most singular artistic visions of modern times and while it may not push it any further it’s often so damn charming as to make you forget about all that and just drift away into Lynch’s meditative world, in wrong love with the weird.
7Matthew Slaughter's Score