Consider two contrasting accounts of creative genius. One is the ‘narrow but intense’ school of thought, which holds that you can only be really good at one thing, and all ventures into other fields are merely dilettantish pastimes which provide some respite or diversion from your true calling. James Joyce may have had a good tenor voice, D.H. Lawrence, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell may have painted pictures, the latter even claiming that her talent as a songwriter would have dried up had she not had the other outlet to fall back on during fallow periods, but they are all clearly better at what they do best than at what they do with the rest of their time.
The other is the Renaissance Man (or Woman) notion, which proposes that a man of genius (and let’s face it, back in Renaissance times it was mostly the men you heard about) should be able to play a lyre and/or harpsichord, paint a picture and/or fresco, sculpt a sculpture, conduct research in anatomy and physiology, and design the odd prototype flying machine, all before breakfast. Horsemanship was an optional extra. Well, maybe it was easier being a Renaissance Man back during the Renaissance, but noted film director David Lynch’s first solo album provides ample evidence that these days specialisation can be more of a virtue than a vice. Crazy Clown Time really is appallingly bad, the worst kind of vanity project imaginable.
Much as I am of huge admirer of Lynch’s films, some of which are inextricably hardwired into my late adolescent/early adult first experiences (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart), Crazy Clown Time will never become a fixture in my deck. Have you ever heard David Lynch speak? ‘Jimmy Stewart from Mars’ may be a handy critical shorthand for his aesthetic sensibility, but it also goes a fair way towards describing his speaking voice. On this album his singing voice (I use the term loosely) is fed through vocoders and various other forms of audio manipulation, but the effect is not spooky or surreal, it’s just excruciatingly irritating. The title track sounds like Daniel Johnston on helium. Mostly it’s like listening to a whole album of The Flaming Lips’ Steven Drodz’s cartoonishly robotic in-concert treble-end ‘thank you’s. ‘Strange and Unproductive Thinking’’s computerised storytelling is akin to Thom Yorke on Radiohead’s ‘Fitter, Happier’ wearing out its 1.57 mins welcome to a PLEASE STOP NOW 7.29. In fact, pretty much everything here needs to be shown the door long before it leaves. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?
The one redeeming presence is opener ‘Pinky’s Dream’, which features Karen O doing her best Alan Vega impersonation, sounding as though she’s fronting Suicide instead of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Unfortunately, it gives no clue as to the Guantanamo-style torture to follow. ‘The Night Bell With Lightening’ is, mercifully, an instrumental, with Chris Isaaky reverb-laden guitar, redolent of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtracks to the likes of Twin Peaks, providing a pit stop. But the remaining 12 tracks alternate between default settings of amateurish, cod-disco, faux-Teutonic electro pop, and painfully plodding, Casio-mangled, scornfully parodic electro-blues. There are no chord changes here, never mind choruses. Not even ‘Football Game’’s reverb/delay/tremolo (whatever you’re having yourself) shards of Big Chords can save the day, leastways not with that silly whinny voice repeating ‘Saw you with another man’ over it.