Few current directors are better at deepening the impact of their visuals with the perfect song or bit of scoring than David Lynch. So many of the indelible moments from his film and TV work are accompanied by an unsettling or deeply affecting piece of music: the creepy “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator)” song from Eraserhead, the heartbreaking Spanish-language rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” that reflects the romantic agony of Rita and Betty in Mulholland Drive, the surreal synchronized dance to the Little Eva version of “The Loco-Motion” that arrives out of nowhere in the midst of Inland Empire.
The peak of Lynch’s ability to marry sight and sound remains his collaboration with composer Angelo Badalamenti on the soundtrack for the incomparable TV series Twin Peaks. On its own, the show was vexing enough, with week after week of murder mystery wrapped in sheets of creeping dread and wacky humor. But the mood of each episode was amplified tenfold by Badalamenti’s synthetic jazz and ethereal instrumentals.
The inverse was true, as well. Driven by the appropriately haunting vocal version of its theme song, the Twin Peaks soundtrack album was a huge seller in the early ’90s, landing in the Top 30 of the Billboard 200 here in the States and managing to top the charts in Australia. And that’s why it’s a perfect candidate for Bloomsbury’s ongoing 33 1/3 book series. It’s just too bad that the analysis that writer and composer Clare Nina Norelli provides isn’t nearly as memorable as the music itself.
Norelli sets the stage nicely, laying down a contextual foundation that includes Badalamenti’s somewhat scattershot career as a songwriter and composer (his work was recorded by Nina Simone and Della Reese) that somehow landed him on Lynch’s radar. Norelli puts us right in the center of the working relationship between the two men, as when the filmmaker narrates an impressionistic scene as the musician improvises an accompaniment, which eventually becomes “Laura Palmer’s Theme.”
While the author weaves in some nice details about the influence of ’50s and ’60s soundtracks on the Twin Peaks score and the careers of the musicians who performed on this album, she gets stuck in the understandable rut of recounting key scenes in the series and talking about how the music worked with or against the visuals. She also dwells on how Badalamenti adapted and re-orchestrated key themes to call back to previous scenes or evoke different emotions. In addition, Norelli seems to ignore the greater influence the Twin Peaks score had on the next 20-plus years of songwriting and composition—for instance, its influence on the work of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, the gents behind the much-lauded music for Stranger Things, or the current swell of pseudo-new age electronic artists like Pulse Emitter and Matthewdavid.
What Norelli does understand is there aren’t casual fans of Twin Peaks. The folks talking about the upcoming continuation of the series on Showtime are the same ones who will be cross-checking each scene and song she mentions in these pages, armed with a copy of the soundtrack and a DVD box set of the series. For them, this book is like an additional booklet of liner notes that will intensify their already intense love for the show. It’s a big ask, though, to hope that any newbie would be motivated enough by Norelli’s work to invest the time and energy of diving into the Twin Peaks universe.