What has 25 years changed for The Music of Twin Peaks? Tons. Most things.
I’ve found that when it comes to Twin Peaks, waiting to digest is equal parts challenging and rewarding, and so it is with the aural aspects of The Return. After 25 years (itself longer than my tenure on terra firma), and a few days extra to figure out what the hell I just saw, we find a vastly different musical tapestry from the one that aired in the early 90s.
Twin Peaks’s original run was possessed by the sublime music of Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti’s music swung from ethereal ambiance to noir jazz, and back again — sometimes in the span of a single song.
So when Twin Peaks: The Return released on Showtime, myself and a lot of other fans understandably expected a parallel Return of Badalamenti, or at least music of a similar flavor.
The intro didn’t disappoint. After a brisk recap of the end of season two, we land on Laura Palmer’s youthful face. Gradually, Badalamenti’s idyllic chords roll in, coupled by the unmistakable bass notes underneath. Hearing the Twin Peaks theme again immediately whisked me away to a nostalgic, haunted place.
That pastoral charm ends when the theme does.
I didn’t expect it to last, and in spite of that, the first cut — to the inside of the Red Room, but in black and white — emanated a stark malice that still managed to throw me. The scene stars Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and The Giant (Carel Struycken) and relies entirely on gradually building ambiance. Even the ambiance is sparse, though, consisting of rumbling sub-noise with some irregular accents. During dialogic silences we often hear mic generated white noise, which seems to undulate as it’s needed.
Badalamenti’s theme is a wave of placidity before an episode filled with uneasy silence and tense ambiance. The whole flavor of The Return’s soundtrack impresses on the viewer that this isn’t the charming, lightly supernatural town we fell in love with at the beginning of Twin Peaks. This is the menacing, baffling world of the finale or, even more accurately, Fire Walk With Me.
There are a few scenes worth mentioning where Lynch’s sparse soundtrack is at its best: at a new locale in New York, where a young man stares down an empty glass box, surrounded by cameras and accompanied by eerie whispers; at a backwater cabin with prominent microphone noise and persistent crickets; a Stellar Nowhere with pink lighting, frequent rewind clicks, erratic, metallic banging; a casino with accents of Twin Peaks’s characteristic heavily delayed, bending guitar chords, the ones that typically signal some kind of Black Lodge moment.
Of these, my personal favorite is the Stellar Nowhere. Fans seem to be gravitating towards calling it the Mauve Zone or the Machine Room — both apt descriptions of the nightmarish box floating in space. It’s as if the scene is played on a faulty vinyl record, clipping forward and backward erratically as some monstrous presence attempts to escape its prison and — well, what? We can only assume, given this is Lynch, something horrific.
The next time we hear real music, though, and I can scarcely call it real, is a David Lynch remix. It’s a barely recognizable remix of American Woman by the Muddy Magnolias, set against a deep forest illuminated only by a pair of not-strong-enough headlights. Anyone who’s driven in a forest like this knows that there’s little to no exaggeration of the blackness, and it makes the scene downright chilling. Check it out below.
Stark, vicious drums explode with the heavily distorted vocals in the background. Lynch’s remix synthesizes perfectly with the visuals in the scene.
Episode 1 ends with a song by the Chromatics, and one simply knows that, in true Lynchian fashion, they’ve got to mean something, but just…what? In true Lynchian fashion, some lyrics may be clear, but one piece of the puzzle is hardly enough to determine the whole vision.
Each episode ends similarly. We cut to the Bang Bang Bar, slightly less seedy than it was 25 years ago, and a youthful group sings us out. The songs stay more or less within the indie wheelhouse, but range from deep shoegaze to pretty straightforward Britrock.
Some of Lynch’s other musical choices are, well, rather obtuse. In episode 4, we hear Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” My mind immediately jumped to Badalementi’s jazz capers. But then I had to second guess myself. Would Lynch really use such a popular jazz number completely in earnest?
Well, maybe. As well as mystique, we know and love Lynch for a certain amount of camp or, maybe more accurately, predictable unpredictability (and camp).
When episode five premiered, I expected more or less the same trend of tense ambiance. What I heard — again, after ample discussion with friends and time to digest was…familiar.
During one particularly memorable (and distressing) scene in the Bang Bang bar, we hear the world premiere of the band Trouble, composed of Lynch’s son, Riley, Dirty Beaches, and Dean Hurley.
Their performance led me on a deep internet search just to be sure the band didn’t exist outside Twin Peaks. I was enthralled.
Outside the Black Lodge, Coop’s mind still seems addled. We don’t know whether his time in the Lodge did this, or if Dougie’s gold pearl holds the secret, or if it’s something else entirely, but he’s caught in the riptide of Dougie’s former life.
We see Janey-E (Naomi Watts) leave a perplexed Cooper at a large business complex, where he takes some time staring at a gun, clasped in the hand of a statue. Shortly after, he meets one of Dougie’s colleagues, who mistakes him for Dougie (naturally) — and drains a large coffee.
Some elements of Coop’s personality seem to be returning. The gun, and more importantly, the coffee, both draw Coop like some ethereal bond that survived the Black Lodge. And as this happens, we hear something…nostalgic.
Skittering drums. Brushes bounce against snare and tom and the song sounds remarkably like Badalamenti. Suddenly, it feels like we’re watching Coop work toward a breakthrough, or one of Audrey Horne’s vigilante investigations into One Eyed Jacks.
It’s just one element. Just one scene. Skittering drums in a bizarre, mistaken identity caper. But add some horns on top, a bopping upright bass in the background, and suddenly we’ve got a Badalamenti classic.
Am I just being sentimental? Maybe. I admit, I was surprised at the musical direction of The Return. Even Fire Walk With Me was reminiscent of the original series, and Fire Walk With Me was a huge departure.
For the past 25 years, Mr. C has spread pain and sorrow unimpeded. The first four episodes of The Return reflect that. But Coop escaped his doppelganger’s trap, and as Coop regains aspects of his identity, we get to see — and hear — hope trickle slowly back into our reality.
Twin Peaks has changed immensely since its original 90s airing. It now demands to be taken seriously, but it’s not at all the impotent demand of a creator on the defense. Lynch’s change is aggressive, calculated, and fierce. In the rumbling ambiance and microphone white noise of The Return there’s a definitive purpose that changes the ethos of the show. Rather than the gradual change we experience in Twin Peaks’s original run, however, this is the abrupt, jarring roar of deafening silence, a change that speaks volumes about Lynch as a vigorous, intent creator.
What is that intent? Lynch’s clues often seem meaningless. From a musical standpoint, however, I believe we can identify clearly that Twin Peaks: The Return is another chapter of Lynch’s endless quest to not just shake standards, but completely shatter them through a combination of surrealism, enigma, and merciless movement in directions no one expects.