Where to start with ‘The Big Dream?’ I mean, it’s David Lynch, so of course there’s stuff to talk about.
You know that scene at the Silencio theater in Mulholland Drive? Better interpretations have been offered than anything I could provide here, but let it be said that there’s a touch of that scene to “The Big Dream.” Hung as the title track is on its brittle drum beat and familiar ambient drone, it effectively establishes a base level of comprehension, a “stage” if you will, for listeners to latch onto. From that stage we are soon treated to genuinely engaging, catchy, simply good tracks like the bluesy “Star Dream Girl” and the darkly quirky “Last Call” (there’s a lot of Les Claypool in Lynch’s nasal croone and absurdist lyrics). The album’s early peak, which still only portends later greatness, is “Cold Wind Blowin,” a smooth, sad little groove that should burn the ears of any Twin Peaks fans (not that Twin Peaks).
It’s at this point that we come back around to that scene at Silencio. Just as the beauty of that scene gives way to the cruel reminder that “there is no band,” so does ‘The Big Dream’ come at us with a song, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” that snaps us from the album’s spell. It’s a solid cover, actually, but its rigid, patterned narrative structure brings the listener to a sense of awareness not suitable for many of the album’s other tracks. The dub rhythm of “Wishin’ Well” and twangy western burn of “Say It” are not allowed the proper head-space they deserve, and it’s made all the more apparent how similar tracks like “I Want You” and “We Rolled Together” are to other tracks on ‘The Big Dream.’ And don’t think you can get around this pacing hiccup by skipping around to each song individually: mid to late album tracks like “Sun Can’t Be Seen No More” sound even more jarring when stripped of their shared context.
So how badly does “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” stir one from ‘The Big Dream?’ Not so much that the committed listener (i.e., those who’d seek out a David Lynch album) can’t still enjoy this assemblage of off-kilter blues, and certainly not enough to deprive the album’s best song of its power. “Are You Sure” is a genuinely affecting track, one admittedly similar in sound and structure to “Cold Wind Blowin,” though good enough so as to have the comparison flow the other way. With but a single repetition of one verse and choral refrain, “Are You Sure” evokes the conciseness of a hymnal, and is appropriately the album’s most uplifting song. Unlike the reveal of Silencio’s trick, “Are You Sure” find’s Lynch displaying a warmer humanity in allowing the band to play on.
Lynch’s use of music and sound has always been an integral element of his directing, but as a musician proper, he’s only been at this sort of thing for the past several years. ‘Crazy Clown Time’ was a solid start, buoyed largely on the strength of it’s opening one-two punch, but the step-up in quality between it and this new album is undeniable (though not a part of the album proper, the bonus track “I’m Waiting Here” is absolutely worth your while). The familiar structures and sounds are all there, but Lynch returns this time around with a more assured sense of his artistry. ‘The Big Dream’ isn’t quite great, not entirely, but it does present listeners with the continued development of an attention-worthy talent.