The songs David Lynch contributed to the soundtrack for this 2007 film Inland Empire—some instrumental, some smeared with his by-now familiar, heavily processed vocal style—had a menacing quality, the diabolical tenor of his film work concentrated into dense three-minute sonic bursts. At the time, it seemed like an interesting bit of cross-medium exploration from one of cinema’s preeminent mad scientists, allowing his twisted brilliance to seep out into another creative platform. Lynch hasn’t directed a movie since—nor will he again, if the prickly auteur is to be believed. And considering the grim, dreary sideshow theatrics of The Big Dream, the question on many fans’ minds must be: for this?
Lynch’s musical aspirations now appear increasingly one-note. As odd and off-putting as Crazy Clown Time was, it still had an air of novelty and improbability that this new album almost entirely lacks. It’s undoubtedly well recorded, with a sustained mood and some nice sonic touches, including the gallery of grotesque voices Lynch adopts throughout its 12 tracks. But it surrenders to a repetition and circularity that’s never been an issue with the director’s endlessly inventive movies; if you’ve heard one Lynch song, you’ve basically heard them all.
Each track follows a restrictively standard template: slow tempo; fiddled-with vocals; spare, ringing guitar notes echoing over baselines of sludgy distortion. There are some nice riffs on the tension inherent in Lynch’s public persona, the contrast between the soft-spoken boy-scout Montanan with the homespun accent and the perverse mind that summons so much sinister darkness. This approach has its moments, on tracks like “We Rolled Together,” which, given how its ominous musical heft is matched against a routine story of a trip to the ice cream store, projects a mordant tone of black humor that keeps the song afloat despite its labored leadenness.
Other songs, like Lynch’s craggy cover of “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” which turns the Dylan original into a groggy nightmare of croaky voiced speech and clanging percussion, depend entirely on atmosphere. Neither style makes for an especially gratifying listen, and across 50 minutes, staleness gradually sets in. Lynch may be devoting much of his time and passion to his new career as a musician, but The Big Dream still has a thin, larky feel, briefly amusing, consistently strange, but rarely resonant.