Home Read Albums Of The Week: Danny Elfman | Big Mess

Albums Of The Week: Danny Elfman | Big Mess

Elfman bridges his rock past & orchestral present on this superbly knotty creation.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Big Mess is Danny Elfman’s first solo album in 37 years. Clocking in at 18 tracks, the sprawling, ambitious double album finds the Grammy and Emmy-winning composer breaking bold new ground as both a writer and a performer, drawing on a dystopian palette of distorted electric guitars, industrial synthesizers and orchestra in an effort to exorcise the demons brought about by four years of creeping fascism and civil rot. He is joined on the album by drummer Josh Freese (Devo, The Vandals), bassist Stu Brooks (Dub Trio, Lady Gaga, Lauryn Hill), and guitarists Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses) and Nili Brosh (Tony MacAlpine, Paul Gilbert).

Big Mess was almost entirely created spontaneously during quarantine in 2020. It began as an experiment Elfman had been considering which combined aggressive rock band and orchestral strings in a way that had not been heavily explored. “Once I began writing,” he explained, “It was like opening a Pandora’s box and I found I couldn’t stop. None of it was planned. I had no idea how many songs I would write but from the start it quickly became a two-sided project with heavily contrasting and even conflicting tones.”

The songs on Big Mess combine both harmonically complex arrangements and simple high energy driving music with biting, acerbic wit as they reckon with the chaos and confusion of the modern world. “2020 was an intense year, to say the very least,” Elfman says. And while the anger, frustration, and isolation of it all is palpable in his delivery, Big Mess is about more than simply blowing off steam. In making the space to truly sit with his emotions and write without limitations, Elfman achieved a kind of artistic liberation on the record that had been eluding him for decades, rediscovering his voice and reinventing himself all at once in the process.

Elfman isn’t shy about using that voice to share his mind, either. Big Mess is an often explicitly political record— Choose Your Side, Serious Ground and Sorry all anchor themselves in the political intensity of our times. Even a reworked Oingo Boingo song, Insects, transforms itself into a meditation on the greed and sickness of the American ruling class — but Big Mess is also a deeply personal work, with songs like the droning In Time, the haunting We Belong, and the feverish Everybody Loves You revealing more of Danny Elfman than we’ve heard at any stage of his remarkably eclectic career.

“I knew from the start that this wasn’t going to be a neat, easy-to-categorize record,” says Elfman. “It was always destined to be this crazy cacophony, because that’s who I am. The Big Mess is me.”