Oingo Boingo front man Danny Elfman returns solo for a Big Mess

BY MARIANA GARRICK

Over the course of an 18-track album that lasts a little over 70 minutes, Danny Elfman’s first solo album after nearly 40 years bursts with creativity. The album’s title, Big Mess, is self-explanatory of how it sounds. It is a mess, but Elfman’s artistic skills shine throughout the album and show how truly original each song is. The bizarre beats, sounds and words are unlike anything anyone’s ever heard before due to his eclectic taste and extensive musical background.

The Oingo Boingo front man and composer crafted Big Mess almost entirely during last year’s lockdown. Prior to the global pandemic, Elfman was scheduled to perform at the 2020 Coachella music festival. In preparation for the million-dollar event that was expected to have a live audience of over 250,000 people, he began working on a performance that would incorporate his film work with remade renditions of songs from his old band, along with newer tracks that fit his current creative state. When Coachella was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he continued to write. The festival’s cancellation and national lockdown resulted in countless original songs from the composer with help from guitarists Nili Brosh and Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses), bassist Stu Brooks (Lady Gaga, Dub Trio) and drummer Josh Freese (Weezer, The Vandals).

In a statement, Elfman compared the Big Mess writing process to Pandora’s box. “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,” he said in a press release. “I knew from the start that this wasn’t going to be a neat, easy-to-categorize record. It was always destined to be this crazy cacophony, because that’s who I am. The Big Mess is me.”

The album opens with, “Sorry,” an almost 5-minute-long track with operatic and electric guitar tones. The chaotic song includes a disembodied orchestra repeating, “I’m sorry” while Elfman’s compelling voice enters the song in complete panic mode. He closes the chilling song with, “I’m not afraid to die // I’m still alive // And I won’t let you bury me.” The next song to follow is “True,” a song fit for an apocalyptic sci-fi film. The contrast between the strings, electric guitar and Elfman’s out-of-place booming voice unravel into a heart-thumping track that causes listeners to stay and see what else he has in store.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER/dgpics.com

“In Time” shows how much of a creative genius Elfman is. The song is more personal than the others while still remaining dark. His compositional ability is displayed three minutes into the song after the light percussion subsides and his deep voice fades into the harmonizing orchestra.

The chilling, and somewhat eerie track “Everybody Loves You” is the longest on the record spanning seven minutes. Drawing inspiration from the political climate at the time, the composer intensely says, “What do we think when the world’s burning // It’s another delusion that I can’t respect // It’s another man’s vision that I can’t protect // Off the borrowed labors of another man’s sweat.” At four tracks in with delayed vocals and warped hard rock, it’s evident that the album took a big turn and is still full of more political surprises.

Moving onto “Choose Your Side,” the song features a sample of Donald Trump’s voice saying, “It’s a great thing that’s happening in our country // It’s a great day for everybody.” Elfman uses this moment to share his opinion and pose questions to the audience (“My imagination never saw this // When will we start to feel like we’re not helpless // When will we learn not to repeat the same damn horrors from the past?”) His political tone continues until “Love in the Time of Covid.”

©JACOB BOLL

The second half of the record features, “Happy.” The track includes Elfman’s playfully monotone voice, which was seen and heard in Tim Burton’s 1993 film “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The song was the first single released on Big Mess in October 2020. Though his voice is monotone throughout the track, he harmonizes with himself in an orchestral manner as the song twists off into pure punk. With punk being the basis of the second half of the album, “Just a Human” perfectly fits that category. Along with staying true to the genre, the song’s orchestral usage may have the tendency to remind listeners of Queen’s signature harmonies. The fist-pumping song is far from political and instead, full of Elfman’s life reflections that’s displayed in a playful way.

Overall, the first part of Big Mess is more personal, opinionated and rooted in an orchestral style-unlike the second half which consists solely of punk beats. Throughout Elfman’s life, he’s had an impressive career. From being the front man of Oingo Boingo, composing music for The Simpsons theme song and many of biggest movies in Hollywood (Marvel, Good Will Hunting, Planet of the Apes just to name a few) including several of Burton’s films, it was only right for him to create an album that’s full of the expertise he’s learned along the way.

Despite critics calling the album “too long,” this was the perfect time for Elfman to release all the songs he’s created during quarantine. The songs consist of many different elements and genres because of his musical background, so it’s understandable as to why it resulted in what he calls a “big mess”. At first, it does sound like a mess, but by the end of each track it becomes a creative masterpiece that’s been unheard of.

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One comment

  1. I wish he had brought in Oingo Boingo to help with the music.

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