The Geeks Inherit the Earth

Clare Nina Norelli – Soundtrack from Twin Peaks (33.3, Bloomsbury Academic)
Eliot Wilder – Endtroducing (33.3, Bloomsbury Academic)
Sean L. Maloney – The Modern Lovers (33.3, Bloomsbury Academic)
Paula Mejia – Psychocandy (33.3, Bloomsbury Academic)

This series surely could not exist without Revolution in the Head, the song-by-song book about the Beatles back catalogue by Ian MacDonald.

Each book in the series focuses on one iconic album, exploring its music, its cultural and historical context, its production and the biographies of the key players and its sleeve art.

Some of the books will be great for music students, rather than just culture vultures like me. I tend to zone out when the ‘G-C-F Sharp sequence’ is explained, but the level of detail is admirable.

The Soundtrack from Twin Peaks book is thoroughly enjoyable. It is music I know backwards, but it gives me all kinds of new trajectories and connections.

By 1985, Elizabeth Fraser was David Lynch’s favourite living singer. Lynch wanted her version of ‘Song To The Siren’, the Tim Buckley track, recorded with the studio collective This Mortal Coil, for Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. He wanted Fraser and her partner Robin Guthrie to mime on stage in the prom scene. I had no idea this was the case.

The problem was that Tim Buckley’s estate demanded $20,000 for the rights. The director then asked composer Angelo Badalamenti to create ‘Mysteries Of Love’, eventually sung by Julee Cruise. As Martin Aston describes it, in his excellent history of the 4AD label, Facing the Other Way:

‘Starting with Blue Velvet, and most famously on his TV series Twin Peaks, Lynch fashioned a world that appeared seamless, unruffled and presentable on the surface, but scarred and disturbed underneath, foaming with a barely controllable darkness.’

There has always been a coalseam of lush melancholia running underneath the 1980s recordings of the Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush, Julee Cruise and even Chris Isaak. Reading Nina Norelli’s Twin Peaks book shows me that the connections are not merely incidental.

Again, Martin Aston explains that This Mortal Coil’s ‘Song To The Siren’ became a cult from the day of its release. Annie Lennox of Eurythmics and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran named it their singles of the year.

Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons calls it ‘the best recording of the Eighties’. For years, he says, he was also ‘spellbound by the Julee Cruise catalogue’, but ‘didn’t know why.’ ‘It was so beautiful and yet so horribly cryptic’ and ‘there seemed to be something terrible lurking beneath the breathy sheen.’ Years later, he fully understood when he heard ‘that Lynch had originally wanted to license “Song To The Siren.”’

Now, with this work by Nina Norelli, we can trace all of this even further back to Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti, who as the Anglicised ‘Andy Badale’ wrote songs for Della Reese and Nina Simone. ‘I Hold No Grudge’ by Nina Simone shows a peep of the dark, seductive sound of Lynch’s American Gothic Surrealism. There is a lineage here, a thread I didn’t know, despite being very aware of all the music, the Twin Peaks Soundtrack, the Julee Cruise record and This Mortal Coil. This is the strength of this series.

Equally, the book on DJ Shadow’s flawless masterpiece Endtroducing is a thing of joy, to sink into and emerge from, frantically searching for your copy of the record. The links between the suburban LA garage Shadow developed his sound in and the slick west coast jazz scene of Nat Adderley and David Axelrod are wonderful. The Modern Lovers’ album also gets the treatment it deserves, as does the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy. The latter comes out of an East Kilbride downpour with total attitude.

If I have a problem it is that Beverley Craven and Abba Gold seem to be the only solidly non-hipster inclusions in the 33.3 series. The list is so self-consciously cool it hurts. I’d like to see totally random writers paid to review randomly selected albums. But until someone is brave enough to commit funds to such a project, the 33.3 series continues to develop very nicely indeed.

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