There aren’t many albums that can be described as both contentious and tragic, but the Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse collaboration Dark Night of the Soul certainly fits that slim category. The album’s tortuous path began when Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) and Sparklehorse’s main power source Mark Linkous conceived a fascinating project where they would create instrumental music and send the results to director David Lynch. Lynch would take a series of photographs inspired by each song, which in turn would inspire Burton and Linkous to craft lyrics for the music.
Burton and Linkous then planned to send the songs to various vocalists for their specific input, with the intent of releasing the music as a CD and the photographs in an accompanying book, but a legal dispute between Burton and EMI delayed the release to the extent that the Lynch book was printed and distributed with a blank CD-R to burn a copy of the album (which Burton leaked online).
That’s the contentious part. The tragedy is that Linkous and singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt, one of Dark Night of the Soul’s guest voices, both committed suicide before Burton and EMI could resolve their differences to clear the way for the album’s official release.
With the much-discussed album finally out, the situation becomes all the more unsettling because of its quirky magnificence, from the Beatlesque “Revenge,” featuring The Flaming Lips’ patented weirdness, and the swaggering Punktronic Pop of “Angel’s Harp” with Black Francis’ unhinged contribution, to the careening Modern Rock of Iggy Pop’s “Pain” and the presciently black-shrouded carnival of Vic Chesnutt’s “Grim Augury.”
Burton and Linkous’ diverse soundtrack has all of the delicious left turns of a Tom Waits/Brian Eno/Radiohead studio jam, adding further ennui to the proceedings as Linkous’ death negates the potential to explore a second volume. Dark Night of the Soul is a fitting tribute to its fallen participants and conceptually successful enough to hopefully inspire Burton to revisit the concept with a new musical collaborator, a fresh slate of vocal contributors and perhaps even more wildly arranged and executed sonic vignettes.