Friday, June 12, 2009

Near Dark - or - The Really Grey Album

Dark Night of the Soul
Any controversy surrounding this collaboration fizzled out before making a serious dent in the popular memory. That's probably because the record's not very exciting. There may be more to the story than was initially reported but what's known is simple: DJ/producer/musician Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) and Sparklehorse singer/songwriter Mark Linkous wrote and recorded 13 songs inspired by some photos taken by filmmaker David Lynch. Then EMI, the record label that signed Danger Mouse, refused to release the album.

The subsequent, and mildly subversive, marketing tactic used to get Dark Night into the public's ears remains the stickiest part of this project. Danger Mouse's fingerprints have been on a number of mainstream (Gorillaz, Gnarls Barkley) and indie (Jemini, Joker's Daughter, The Rapture) successes.

But Dark Night possesses little of the alternately grim and playful sonic ink that normally saturates the pages of Danger Mouse's songbook. That the album begins with a track featuring The Flaming Lips and boasts two vocal contributions from former Grandaddy leader Jason Lyttle makes sense. Musically, Dark Night rests in a lackluster spot between The Lips' shimmering cotton candy haze and Grandaddy's twinkling bummer-pop.

The listener's enjoyment of a given song may depend largely on appreciation for (or tolerance of) the featured vocalist. None of the music scrapes the senses in that way Lynch's best cinema can ("Eraserhead" "Blue Velvet" "The Elephant Man"), nor does any of it bump and fizz with the pop appeal that Danger Mouse normally brings to his music.

Resist the temptation to blame the dullness on Linkous -- in a collaboration as sprawling as this, every participant gets blame equal to their level of involvement. Collectors of pop curios can add Dark Night to the shelf. Danger Mouse fans can take a breath and wait to see what comes next. After all, nobody thought there'd be a second Gnarls Barkley disc, let alone one that good.