Twenty years after it was first released, Angelo Badalamenti's score for David Lynch's series has lost none of its eerie majesty
In even the greatest TV shows, music is often just decoration for the story. It's there to add colour and amplify (or in the case of really bad acting, signpost) emotion. But in Twin Peaks, finally available on DVD in the UK this week, the music isn't simply reflective – it has a creepy agency all of its own.
The soundtrack is made up of a handful of themes composed by Angelo Badalamenti. His music for the opening credits initially seems saccharine and sentimental, but is actually fitting for the mood of the show. Like many of Lynch's films, it's an old-fashioned story of good and evil, stemming from a core of sentimentality that has corroded.
This initial theme, like all the music, is also sensitive to Lynch's vision of Twin Peaks as somewhere both contemporary (with modern guns and tape recorders) and oddly vintage (with 50s fashions). Badalamenti evokes Douglas Sirk melodrama with soaring strings, as Lynch does with his romantic plots, but tempers it with modern instrumentation, just as Lynch does by conjuring a sense of metaphysical terror. So a saxophone wails over power chords, while violins sound against deathless synths.
The use of singers is inspired, from overdubbing Julee Cruise so heavily that her scenes teeter on the edge of dreams, to Just You, the eerily accurate pastiche of a 50s ballad sung by the beautiful trio of teenage protagonists, and the nerve-shredding minimalism of Jimmy Scott performing Sycamore Trees. Lynch continues to explore the transformative power of song in later work, such as the Spanish version of Roy Orbison's Crying in Mulholland Drive, or the euphoric Nina Simone performance at the end of Inland Empire.
But the soundtrack's real triumph is Laura Palmer's Theme. Beginning with four brooding synth notes (later sampled by Moby on Go), a piano swells into teary-eyed romance, before slowly tumbling down into the original motif. This theme recurs throughout the soundtrack, providing an overall structure for the show, of light emerging from darkness only to be engulfed again. For the condemned characters of Twin Peaks, the music is not merely a decorative hood, it's the scaffold from which they're hanged.