I recall during a particularly acrimonious musical discussion, eliciting an incredulous response when I compared Julee Cruise’s ‘Floating Into The Night’ to Captain Beefheart’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’. Stay with me here… This isn’t one of those ‘odd one out’ rounds on ‘Have I Got News For You’ where the most tenuous link can be constructed between, say for instance Donald Trump and Germaine Greer. Neither does it originate from the simple yet excruciatingly uninteresting fact of both albums being permanent fixtures in my all-time top ten, for by that criterion alone, ‘Trout Mask Replica’ would rather absurdly, have less in common with ‘Safe As Milk’ than it does with ‘Floating Into The Night’. So what might the two possibly share in common? It may be harder to imagine two albums which sound so completely different, that are so utterly incongruous: one a primitive, abrasive, angular, chaotic cacophony; the other one whispers it’s cotton wool lullabies so bashfully that it almost isn’t there at all. Indeed one might take the latter as a medicinal antidote after swallowing too much of the former. Playing the albums back to back may prove to be the ultimate aural speedball.
David Lynch. He might understand where I’m coming from. And not simply because ‘Trout Mask Replica’ is reputedly the great man’s very own favourite LP. That is not the answer to the puzzle either, although there is really no puzzle to solve. This isn’t ‘Mulholland Drive’ after all (we all have our own answers to that particular puzzle, but you’re welcome to enlighten me with yours – answers on a postcard please). Here’s the deal. There are genuinely few albums I can think of which have ‘Floating Into The Night’s untainted singularity of mind. ‘Trans Europe Express’? For sure. ‘Ramones’? Without question. Perhaps only one or two others, ‘Trout Mask Replica’ for example. ‘Floating…‘ creates it’s own sound world, possesses it’s own authentically unique atmosphere and timbre, but ultimately, its genius lies in its economy and purity of vision. It stands oblivious to the world around it, completely at odds with the prevailing zeitgeist, and is the work of obsessive perfectionists. And that’s a description equally fitting of ‘Trout Mask Replica’.
Those obsessive perfectionists were of course Lynch himself and Angelo Badalamenti. The fruit of their first collaboration was the soundtrack to ‘Blue Velvet’ which featured ‘Mysteries Of Love’ by the then largely unknown singer Julee Cruise. The timbre of that song – in common with other Lynch soundtracks, hinted at the existence of a dark underbelly beneath the respectable wholesome veneer of small town America. But it is an even earlier Lynchian incarnation which provides a clearer indication of what he intended to accomplish more fully on ‘FITN’: in the 1976 experimental film ‘Eraserhead’, a petite woman with a bizarre facial deformity sings a song – the song is ‘In Heaven Everything Is Fine’. It is also known as ‘The Lady In The Radiator Song’, and is the archetype for the ballads Julee Cruise would sing so beautifully on ‘FITN.’ Of course by 1988-89, Lynch was working on the ‘Twin Peaks’ project (film and TV series) which yielded as it’s main theme ‘Falling’ also included on ‘FITN’. Lynch’s genius as a director has been to match beautifully unsettling images with gorgeously transcendent music, the innocence of which is instantly perverted by its often disturbing visual accompaniment. His capacity to surprise viewer and listener by uncovering the more sinister dreams and desires in human nature is what makes his work so distinctive. As a consequence, the unspoken fear that all may not be well hangs like a pall throughout this recording too.
This is not a record characterised by passionate performances; Cruise’s gentle but bewitching delivery alongside it’s phantasmagorical little brushes with doo-wop (the wonderful ‘Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart’) and rockabilly are almost ironic. One senses the record’s grooves like human veins have been invaded, each drop of its blood extracted, sacrificed. On only two occasions (‘I Remember’ and ‘Into The Night’) is there an unexpected twist (a disarming little change of tempo), or anything overtly soulful in the musicianship (a blast or two of brass). Elsewhere the music is characterised by an almost stoic reverie, but underneath, always an air of unease, uncertainty. The penultimate track ‘The Swan’ typifies this. Over Badalamenti’s achingly hypnotic melody, Julee’s enchantingly mysterious vocal is mournful, almost funereal. [‘You made the tears of love /Flow like they did when I saw /The dying swan…Then your smile died/On the water/It was only a reflection/Dying with the swan’]
Best of all is ‘The World Spins’ – the solemn eternal slow motion circular dance of the Universe unfolding. We gaze at the stars. What little we see of life’s mystery has become fleetingly clear, but angels are weeping for who knows what tomorrow might bring. But for this moment at least, on this, the last day of another year, everything is fine. (JJ)