The reissue of Julee Cruise’s second album, featuring David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, follows the singer on her dizzying dream-pop trajectory, where love and loss are flip sides of the same coin.
Julee Cruise may not have gotten famous exactly, but in the nearly three decades since her debut, she’s heard traces of herself in other female singers: “They sing like sexy baby girls,” she noted in a 2014 interview. Cruise didn’t always sing that way. Before meeting David Lynch through his go-to composer, Angelo Badalamenti, the Iowa-born singer had a big, belting musical theater voice; Badalamenti, who’d met Cruise on the set of a Greenwich Village production he’d written, doubted she could fit the bill when Lynch needed an airy, Elizabeth-Fraser-of-Cocteau-Twins kind of voice for Blue Velvet’s main theme. But Cruise surprised him, restraining her delivery by imagining she was the soloist in a boy’s choir. Lynch directed her to sing like an angel; later in their collaborative relationship, he advised her to sing as though she were on the brink of orgasm.
And so, alongside Lynch and Badalamenti, Cruise was creatively reborn, seeming to arrive Birth of Venus-style by an otherworldly spotlight onto a dark stage. Her first album, Floating Into the Night, arrived in 1989, with lyrics written by Lynch and arrangements by Badalamenti. But her breakthrough came the following year with the premiere of “Twin Peaks”; on stage at the Roadhouse near the end of the pilot episode, Cruise performed “Falling” and “The Nightingale,” two weightless, transportive dream pop songs from her debut album. In black leather with cherry-red lips and nails, she gave the impression of an angel who’d awoken on earth on the back of a stranger’s Harley Davidson. In the rare moments she opened her eyes, her gaze drifted longingly above the audience towards somewhere unreachable in the distance.
Cruise’s best-known songs appear on that first album; “Falling” even cracked the Billboard charts, a rarity for a song from a television soundtrack. Its follow-up, 1993’s The Voice of Love, never quite achieved the same cult status. But its 25-year anniversary reissue via Sacred Bones makes a case for the album as, if not as vital as her debut, a captivating chapter in her beguiling and sometimes confusing catalog. (Cruise’s subsequent albums—2002’s The Art of Being a Girl and 2011’s My Secret Life—depart from Badalamenti’s jukebox noir to venture into some of the strangest trip-hop I have ever heard.) Floating Into the Night dealt mostly with love’s power to stun, sending Cruise down a rabbit hole of desire. The Voice of Love follows this dizzying trajectory, where love and loss are flip sides of the coin—in Cruise’s world, it is love’s fleeting nature that gives it meaning.
The Voice of Love is filled with these sorts of doomed Cinderella moments, where romantic connections burn brightly for a night and then fade into memories. “This Is Our Night,” with its loping reggae guitar chords, is one of the least-expected diversions in Cruise’s early career: picture a David Lynch interpretation of “The Tide Is High” and you’re halfway there. But where the title suggests a triumphant love story, Cruise wonders in her haunted falsetto: “When all my days are wanting you/When all your days are wanting me/Why can’t it ever be?” Love is a space to drift through, a prelude to mourning. On “Until the End of the World,” a sedated, droning take on ’50s rock with dramatic, lurching drums, it’s not the love itself that is made to last, Cruise sings, but the lingering dream of it.
There are moments of levity, too. On the narcotic doo-wop of “Movin’ in on You,” Cruise’s deliriously overdubbed vocals warn a love interest that she’s going to steal him from his current girlfriend, and “Kool Kat Walk” is a hilariously weird cat-and-mouse game between Cruise, two women named Betsy and Susan, and a mysterious character called Kool Kat who appears to be fucking everyone involved. But for the most part, the mood is dark and disorienting: “She Would Die For Love,” which samples the main theme of “Twin Peaks”’ prequel film Fire Walk With Me, features Cruise singing as if lost in the deep woods. “Up in Flames” turns the tiptoeing-down-the-stairs jazz of Badalamenti’s “Freshly Squeezed” into haunted drone, with distant police sirens and quick sprays of gunfire. It’s a bit of a queasy listen, but it suits the mood: “I feel for you, baby, like a bomb,” Cruise whimpers. “Now my love’s gone up in flames.”
The Voice of Love’s most transcendent moment is something of a spiritual follow-up to “Mysteries of Love,” the Blue Velvet theme that first brought Cruise and Lynch and Badalamenti together. But where that song was lit by the clarifying glow of love, “Questions in a World of Blue” deals with its aftermath: “How can love die? Was it me? Was it you?” Cruise pleads to someone who isn’t there. Badalamenti’s arrangement feels unbearably weightless in contrast, a funeral song that drifts towards heaven. Cruise performs the song, eyes closed, during Fire Walk With Me, illuminated in the dark Roadhouse by an unearthly blue light. As Laura Palmer—whose days we know are numbered, as she herself knows—witnesses the scene, she begins to sob, as though she’s just heard a voice from another world.
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