Album Review: "Twin Peaks" (Limited Event Series Soundtrack and Music From The Limited Series Event)

The thing that, as an adult, I’ve realized about soundtracks is that while the music in question is very important to the film or television program you are watching—it has become increasingly difficult to remove it all from that context and package it in something you can take with you.  I came to this conclusion last year when I impulsively bought the soundtrack to the N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton. The movie itself, chided for its inaccuracies, was incredibly fun, and the sequences of the group performing those songs were surprisingly powerful.

However, removing it out of that context, it just became an inexpensive CD I bought on a whim at Target that featured a smattering of N.W.A classics, a few old funk songs that had been sampled, and the quintessential “Nothing But A ‘G’ Thang.” It, sadly, lacked that intensity from when it was used in the film.

Soundtracks aren’t much of a thing as they used to be—no movie soundtrack, in 2017, is going to spend four months atop the Billboard charts, and rarely does a movie go out of its way to include some kind of big pop song, or something performed by a marquee name artist, to play over the ending credits. This idea is more or less a thing of the past.

The use of music and sound was extremely important to David Lynch throughout the 18-hour run of “Twin Peaks: The Return,” or “Twin Peaks” Season Three, or whatever we’re calling it now. Re-teaming with original composer Angelo Badalamenti for a bulk of the score, Lynch also enlisted sound designer Dean Hurley to assist with creating atmospheric, incidental sounds and effects, as well as Chromatics frontman Johnny Jewel for additional pieces of music. Hurley also was tasked with curating the bands that performed at The Roadhouse near the conclusion of a number of episodes.

Pulling together 12 pieces (both old and new) from Badalamenti, a collection of old soul and R&B tunes, tracks performed ‘live’ at The Roadhouse, and other miscellaneous sonic elements, both the Music From The Limited Event Series and Limited Event Series Soundtrack to “Twin Peaks” are, for the most part, strong enough to stand on their own, but also, and more importantly, shed new light into some of the more puzzling elements from the series.

As much of a hassle as it may be to grab both collections—and yes, they both have their weak points, however, it is worth buying both, specifically and respectively for the startling live version of “I’ve Been Loving You For So Long,” by Otis Redding, used in a pivotal moment near the end of the series, as well as the ‘David Lynch Remix’ of “American Woman” (not the one you’re thinking of) which is both hilarious and terrifying to listen to in its entirety.

I think it goes without saying that the Soundtrack to “Twin Peaks,” which serves as the show’s score, is the more inaccessible of the two, mostly because it becomes more difficult to remove the brooding instrumental drones and short jazzy breaks from the context of the scenes they are used in, and placing them elsewhere (like your stereo.) It’s the collection that is geared more toward the hardcore “Twin Peaks” fan, as opposed to the person who finds it quaint that both Nine Inch Nails and a cover of “Viva Las Vegas” by Shawn Colvin are on the same album (more on this later.)

Badalamenti’s instrumental pieces for the original show are iconic—there is no doubt about that. They are also over 20 years old, but have some how transcended themselves, meaning that they haven’t aged poorly, but they also haven’t aged well. They still sound so incredibly dated—anything made on a synthesizer in the 1980s is going to—but they don’t sound, like, laughably dated. They take you back though, and that’s the point. You hear those opening notes to the main theme—only a minute and change of it are used in “The Return”’s credit sequence—and you are instantly transported back to the first time you heard those somber guitar notes and synth swells build into something triumphant.

One of the criticisms of “The Return” was how David Lynch neglected to tonally match the original series. I feel like matching the tone was never in the cards, and by using other music, he also opts not to completely match the original’s soundscapes. Badalamenti’s new contributions—specifically looking at “Accident/Farewell Theme,” “Dark Mood Woods,” “The Chair,” and “The Fireman” are mostly similar in creating the same feeling of tension, sadness, and wonder.  Two hold overs from the original—“Laura Palmer’s Theme” and “Audrey’s Dance”—make very brief appearances in the show, creating two of its most self-aware, winking at the audience moments.

There are some high points though to Badalamenti’s new contributions to “The Return,” both arriving near the end of the record: “Heartbreaking” is exactly that—a stark, melancholic, emotional piano piece used well after the halfway mark of the series, soundtracking a moment when you hope, as an audience member, that Kyle MacLachlan’s beloved Special Agent Dale Cooper will inevitably find his way back; and then there is “Dark Space Low,” two of the most harrowing, evocative minutes of music I can recall in recent memory. Played over the ending credits of the very final episode of “The Return,” as you were presumably sitting in your living room, stunned and speechless, the piece’s low, ethereal, ominous tones swirl around, creating a feeling like you are slowly drowning—but that you are completely okay with what is happening. It may only last for 1:50 before it drifts off into a chilling silence, but it is the kind of thing I could listen to a loop of for hours and hours.

Outside of Badalamenti’s work, there are a number of other interesting inclusions on the show’s Soundtrack, including the haunting “Threnody For The Victims of Hiroshima,” used in the now groundbreaking eighth hour of the show, the slick, yet pensive slow burning groove of Johnny Jewel’s “Windswept,” and finally, the chopped and screwed remix of Muddy Magnolias’ “American Woman.” Apparently a pop song of some kind (it was used in the 2016 Ghostbusters film), David Lynch, in all his wisdom, chose to slow it down to a codeine drip, reverse a bulk of it, and make it as menacing and unsettling as possible so it could underscore the introduction of “Mr. C,” as well as a startling turning point for a character late in the show.

Music From The Limited Event Series takes things in a more pop focused direction, save for the novelty of included “I Am” by Blunted Beatz, and it makes for a much more accessible listen—or, at the very least, less terrifying. 12 of the album’s 20 tracks are dedicated to things performed at The Roadhouse bar—some of which are great, and can stand on their own, and some of which aren’t as captivating when they are removed from the context of the show.

The fascinating thing about the collection of songs from Roadhouse performances is that some of them—like Nine Inch Nails and Eddie Vedder—were written specifically for the show. Vedder was given some vague, fragmented ideas to work with, and managed to pull of the rather emotional acoustic ballad, “Out of Sand.” Nine Inch Nails originally turned in a song that was rejected by David Lynch, who told the band to come back with something that would make his hair stand on end. The result is the abrasive, industrial pounds of “She’s Gone Away,” which was originally included on an EP the band released late in 2016.

It makes sense that “She’s Gone Away” was written with “Twin Peaks” in mind, because you can read a little too heavily into the lyrics, and bend them to be about elements of the show—“I can’t remember what she came here for/I can’t remember much of anything anymore…A little mouth opened up inside/Yeah, I was watching on the day she died.”

It’s a trick you can pull off with a number of other songs included in the set, though—like the Chromatics shimmering, somber electro pop “Shadow”—“At night I’m driving in your car, pretending that we’ll leave this town…And now you’re just a stranger’s dream. I took your picture from the frame, and now you’re nothing like you seem,” as well as the polarizing auto-tuned remix of Rebekah Del Rio’s stunning “No Stars,” which was co-written by David Lynch himself a number of years ago: “My dream is to go to that place/You know the one—where it all began/On a starry night…but now it’s a dream.”

Perhaps you see a pattern here—the idea of dreams plays a major role in attempting to understand “The Return.”

Less successful, or even necessary, is the inclusion of Shawn Colvin’s middle of the road cover of “Viva Las Vegas” and ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” both of which, yes, were fine within the context they were used in within the show (though a little head scratching) but for me, aren’t important enough to have made the final cut for this collection—specifically when things like “Sleep Walk” were not included.

As mentioned earlier, the crowning achievement of this compilation is the inclusion of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You For So Long”—a visceral live recording of it, taken from his legendary, breathless performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. The song is used to underscore the characters of Big Ed and Norma (two of the original cast members) finally, finally getting together, after a lifetime of tormented, unobtainable love. It’s a powerful moment—and one of the few ‘happy endings’ the show provided.

And for what it’s worth, despite Shelley’s admission that “James has always been cool” in the first episode of “The Return,” that’s not true, and the inclusion of the laughable “Just You,” introduced in the show’s original run, seems like one big laugh coming from David Lynch.

Both of these collections are geared for a very niche market—I think that goes without saying. A rando off the street is not going to pick these up on a whim, so for the long time “Twin Peaks” fans who want to continue pondering just what the final hour of “The Return” meant, these are the perfect thing to listen to as you think; a nice souvenir of a wild, 18 hour ride that you never wanted to end.

Both soundtracks are available now on CD and 2xLP, via Rhino Records/Rancho Rosa.