Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album Review
Written by Richie Corelli
Released by Death Waltz Recording Company
Composed by Angelo Badalamenti
1992, 51 minutes
Released on January 25th, 2017
When David Lynch's film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me hit theaters in 1992, it was not well-reviewed. The poor reception of the film overshadowed everything that was attached to it, including the musical score by Angelo Badalamenti. The 2017 reissue of the soundtrack sees time distancing the work from its initial criticism. This is a good thing. It allows for a less-tainted reevaluation of Badalamenti's work.
Fire Walk with Me is a prequel to the Twin Peaks television series, but it has a completely different feel and tone. The series is part detective drama, part soap-opera, and part satirical comedy. It has darker moments, but they are offset by quirky characters and lighthearted situations. Fire Walk with Me is a different beast. The film's scope is narrower. Its story focuses on a high school girl who suffers horrendous abuse and tries to cope with conflicting feelings as she slowly moves towards her death. That is not a spoiler. Audiences know from the beginning that Laura Palmer will be murdered. It makes for a devastating experience. Fire Walk with Me is all noir horror, unforgiving with its surrealism and its violence.
Composer Angelo Badalamenti is the music supervisor for both the series and the film. While Lynch's movie is a departure from the series, Badalamenti's score is not. In the opening track, "Theme From Twin Peaks - Fire Walk with Me", he revisits the warped synth chords from one of the television series' standout tracks, "Laura Palmer's Theme". By calling back to that song, he creates an immediate link between the two projects. But though they share a similar base, "Theme From Twin Peaks - Fire Walk with Me" quickly branches in a different direction and becomes its own thing. As the track creeps forward, trumpeter Jim Hynes joins in. He plays cold blues over Badalamenti's synth bed, his instrument blowing mournful, tired emotion. It's like a sad lullaby or a dirge. It paints the already dark song darker.
Track 2, "The Pine Float", is silky and sexy. It's a jazz cabaret piece that feels right at home in the Twin Peaks world. The second track cements what the first hinted at: the aesthetic is similar, but the composition and production for Fire Walk with Me is deeper and more detailed than Badalamenti's television Twin Peaks run. There are layers to this song, and they play off each other brilliantly. While a synth sleeps underneath, an upright bass and a drum kit set the musical framework. A saxophone, guitar, piano, and xylophone slow dance together, taking turns and trading partners as they feel.
In the late 1960s, Badalamenti worked with vocal legend Nina Simone. The track "Sycamore Trees", which is one of the few tracks on Fire Walk with Me that is supported by a vocalist, has Badalamenti revisiting this style of writing. The song is voiced by an old singer named Jimmy Scott. A rare genetic condition that prevented Scott from fully experiencing puberty gives him a unique, gender-neutral voice. He croons with a tortured elegance that makes this track breathe pain.
Julee Cruise lends her vocals to to Fire Walk with Me as well. Cruise is a frequent collaborator with Badalamenti and Lynch and Questions In A World Of Blue is typical of their work together. The song is a slow, dreamy number. Cruise's etherial voice floats among shifting layers of soft keys. (Cruise clearly liked the song as the track made another appearance in 1993 on Cruise's second solo album, The Voice of Love.)
"The Pink Room" floats on the hazy shade of a meandering, psychedelic, spy-guitar groove. Deep strings moan alongside the hallucinatory static. It's a soundtrack song that wonderfully complements its corresponding scene in the film. In the movie, Lynch mixed this song to the front. The character dialogue is subtitled because the music is so loud. Doomed teenager Laura Palmer is at a club. She's desperately trying to mute her fear and depression in her head by distracting herself with sex, drugs, and music. Lynch gives her the sex and the drugs. Badalamenti provides the music.
As great as those aforementioned songs are, Badalamenti doesn't get it right every time. The composer takes the microphone on "A Real Indication", and the results are sloppy. He sort of speak-raps lines like, "That old wind / Is howling like a cold steel train / Girl has left me / Not comin' back again." It sounds juvenile compared to the rest of the album. "The Black Dog Runs at Night", meanwhile, sees Badalamenti saying the title over and over while loose bass strings slip and teeter inconsistently. It sounds less like a fully realized composition and more like a drunken outtake.
The packaging and presentation is beautiful. Death-Waltz built this as a companion piece to Twin Peaks - Original Score, which they released in August of 2016. Both albums are housed in similar packaging. The outer jacket is die-cut in a zig-zag pattern, Twin Peaks - Original Score in matte white while Fire Walk with Me is matte black. This is for the fans. It's a reference to the saga's White Lodge / Black Lodge mythology.
The Fire walk With Me vinyl is pressed to two 180 gram cherry-pie red LPs and tucked in to a 425gsm gatefold sleeve. Inside, liner notes by critic Mark Kermode give the listener something to read while the records spin. Technical problems that may dissuade audiophiles: The records pop and crackle a bit. It isn't intrusive, but it is something that should be pointed out.
Twenty-five years after it's original release, Fire walk With Me shows Badalamenti's skill as a film composer. These tracks are expertly arranged, the product of a songwriter who is a master of his craft. They are diverse while still keeping to a singular tone and style. They help define the film. Not every track is stellar. Fire walk With Me is a little uneven, but the highs greatly outweigh the lows, and this overall collection ranks among the best of Badalamenti's long career.