A couple of weeks ago when I wrote about Disintegration I mentioned that it comes in second behind this album for the Saddest Pop Album Ever award. I had not heard it for maybe ten years when I wrote that, but now, having listened to it again in preparation for writing this, I'll stick with that opinion. More importantly, of course: it's really beautiful.
It's credited to Julee Cruise, who is primarily a singer, but it's really a collaboration among her, Angelo Badalamenti, and David Lynch. If you've seen Twin Peaks, you've heard parts of it, and will have a good idea of what to expect, not only in purely musical terms but in general atmosphere. You'll remember the haunting instrumental theme music, written by Badalamenti. The song "Falling" on this album is that music, with lyrics. Pretty simple lyrics, but very powerful with that melody, ending with the simple question "Are we falling in love?" on that last rising phrase of the melody.
Some of David Lynch's work has a quality which I've described as "bent nostalgia" and which I suspect is most powerful for people of a certain age--people who can remember the America that existed between the end of the Second World War and the revolutions of the late '60s, and the pop culture of that time. It must be available to younger people, too, in some fashion, because some do seem to get it. It references certain visual and musical motifs of the time, but gives them an odd, dreamy, and sometimes sinister twist. The heavily reverb-ed guitar in the Twin Peaks theme is a good example: it sounds like Duane Eddy on opium. That aspect of this album is presumably mostly the work of Angelo Badalamenti, but I'd be surprised if Lynch didn't have a good deal of influence. The song credits assign the lyrics to him and the music to Badalamenti, but he has some musical ability himself and has released a couple of albums under his own name (which I haven't heard). So I figure that at the very least involved he was involved with the music itself to the extent of saying "Yes," "No," "More of that," etc.
You could call it a concept album, even a narrative. The concept is an old, old one: lost love, a broken heart. The songs, all in first person, begin with the moment of falling in love, then move on to abandonment, desperate yearning and loneliness, and something close to despair, with just a hint of acceptance in the title of the last song, which also comprises its last words: "The Word Spins." It all seems superficially fairly straightforward and simple, but as in some of David Lynch's superficially conventional and even banal scenes, there is an atmosphere, and subtle twists. that give it a deep and powerful resonance--at least for those of us who are susceptible. And I would say now, listening to it with the printed lyrics in front of me, that there are profundities in that simplicity.
I first heard it in roughly 1992 or so, on the radio program "Schickele Mix," in which Peter Schickele, aka P.D.Q. Bach, played a variety of music centered around a particular musical concept or technique. Most of it was classical, but he would throw in a bit of pop and folk here and there. I was transfixed when I heard "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart."
That last bit really touches me, that little reminiscence of the simplest and sweetest of moments. And it's clear that the singer is remembering something lost, not found. It occurs to me now that what makes it so powerful is not that it describes or expresses those moments so well as that it describes and expresses the experience of remembering them. This, possibly, is where one's age plays a part: the music touches on a specific cultural past, and is probably more powerful for anyone with a personal memory of it.
By the time the song was over I was listening eagerly to find out who it was. I had never heard of Julee Cruise and never seen Twin Peaks, though I was somewhat aware of David Lynch's reputation as a very...challenging filmmaker. A few years went by before I actually acquired the album--this was during my years of buying very little music--and many more before I saw Twin Peaks, which only added to my appreciation of the album. I probably haven't heard it more than half a dozen times. For me it's not something to be played casually. Its mysterious sadness and its strange and fragile beauty might be spoiled by overexposure, and anyway it's only appropriate for certain times and moods.
As I've said about several of the albums I've reviewed in this series, if you like the tracks I've included in this post, you will surely like the whole thing, so I'll leave it for you to discover rather than including more samples here.
A few weeks ago I picked up from the local library's discard table The Rolling Stone Album Guide. I've disliked Rolling Stone since the '70s, when I realized it had become in essence an upscale fashion magazine, and would never have paid money for this book, but figured that the magazine does have some good critics and so there ought to be some worthwhile reviews in the book. Today I looked up this album in it. The reviewer gives the album two out of a possible five stars, indicating that the work in question is a "failure." Here is the entire review, which is, as far as I can recall, the single most wrong-headed and obtuse opinion of a piece of music that I've ever encountered:
With a voice that rarely rises above a whisper and a songbook (lyrics by David Lynch, music by Angelo Badalamenti) wreaking [sic] of camp and irony, Cruise comes across as a sort of post-modern Claudine Longet--an amusing concept, to be sure, but hardly worth an entire album.
The review at Allmusic is much better.
--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.