David Lynch is notorious for two things: disjointed, fascinating filmic narrative, and a commitment to Surrealism that borders on madness. This is the man that brought us Eraserhead and Twin Peaks after all – and like Twin Peaks’ nonsensical, borderline-unintelligible finale, the concept of David Lynch producing popular music is hurtful and confusing. Not one to disappoint, Lynch’s Crazy Clown Time is a nightmare kaleidoscope of blues and electric pop that will weird the hell out of you. I’m sure he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Crazy Clown Time starts strong, with Karen O. wailing her way through the gothic highlight “Pinky’s Dream“, evoking Siouxsie and the Banshees and immediately immersing the listener into Lynch’s trademark claustrophobic atmosphere and dense (when not outright suffocating) production. From there, the album is led by Lynch himself, alternately singing and speaking in his reedy, heavily-processed voice over blues guitars and droning synths – though from the success of “Pinky’s Dream”, one can’t help but wish he’d chosen to do more collaboration.
Crazy Clown Time does succeed, however, in getting much, much more bizarre. “Strange and Unproductive Thinking” breaches spoken-word poetry, as Lynch spends seven minutes attempting to articulate a sort of transcendentalist philosophy.. and ends up talking about trees and oral hygiene. “Crazy Clown Time” itself seems to be the first-person narrative of a person at a twisted sort party, with the narrator repeating himself (drunkenly? through the eyes of a disturbed, spectating child?) as he stumbles over supremely disturbing descriptions of women covered in beer and someone named Buddy “scream[ing] so loud he spit”. All of this is also performed in a voice like a distorted Mickey Mouse, while back-masked instrumentals and the odd squeal or scream echo lazily past. Yes, this album is just as depressing and disturbing as anyone would expect from the man that gave us Rabbits.
Despite being generally depressing and occasionally terrifying, Crazy Clown Time is a fascinating album, given to lyrics and instrumentals that suggest the blues, but which combines these elements with a stifling rhythmic atmosphere (both in production and lyricism) that pushes his work firmly into synth-pop territory. When the album hits its stride, the results are surprisingly effective: “The Night Bell with Lightning” is perfectly atmospheric in a way that recalls the greatest lonely melodies of the Twin Peaks soundtrack, while “Stone’s Gone Up” even provides enough of a consistent backbeat and chorus to prove danceable – provided you don’t mind the whisperings in the background.
Crazy Clown Time is not a bad album: it just happens to be a deeply strange one, produced by a deeply strange artist. David Lynch admirers will likely love these half-constructed narratives and poetic ramblings, but anyone unfamiliar with his work, or unwilling to make the artistic commitment, might find the musical leap of faith a little yawning.
Originally written right here, and then later published in The Peak, November 2011.