Danny Elfman is back in a big way, and his latest ongoing project is giving fans a lot to rejoice over and look forward to each month.
As few and far between as the bright spots last year were, one of the few that went woefully unrecognized was a pre-Halloween gift from one of the great horror music icons – composer Danny Elfman’s first single since his 1984 attempt at a solo record So-Lo.
With the release of the single “Happy” through Anti- Records last year, Elfman broke an over thirty-five-year streak and came back out guns a blazing with a subversive pop bop that swings madly between despair and elation and also unites him with frequent collaborator and fellow Knight of Oingo Boingo Steve Bartek. Written for a performance at Coachella that never came, the release was a surprise that went under the radar for many – including myself.
Luckily, I managed to hop on the still-moving train for his newest project – a project that, according to an interview with Rolling Stone – will be going on for the foreseeable future.
On the eleventh of each new month, starting this January 2021, Elfman will be releasing a brand new song to his burgeoning Bandcamp page. The first three tracks of this project – “Sorry”, “Love in the Time of Covid”, and “Kick Me” – are already up and out. My plan is to return to the Elfman well every couple of months for a track round-up of sorts until the project is complete. I’ll be reviewing each track the same way I reviewed Dalton Deschain’s Character Trilogy: each track gets a couple of notes and an individual starring.
January 11: “Sorry”
- I’d like to think of this track as a companion piece to “Happy” since both are all about defying death, although “Happy” is more global while “Sorry” is very personal.
- The sarcastic happiness in the original single is completely gone now, replaced with a much edgier and more biting tone. If you ever want to hear the man who orchestrated Nightmare Before Christmas say the phrase ‘protected piles of shit’, this is the song for you.
- Elfman’s vocals remind me of Gerald McMahon from “Cry Little Sister” honestly; he has the same type of cadence during the verses.
- I don’t like the chorus of background voices being there for all of it. I feel like they were a good touch at the beginning, this weird sort of call and response of “I’m so sorry”. But when it started breaking up into just noises around Elfman’s vocals, it got really old really fast. It’s also another reason my brain connected this to “Cry Little Sister” — although I’ll admit that I liked the children’s chorus more than this one.
- I enjoyed the strings and drums for the most part! I feel like it gets to be a little bit “shower scene from Psycho” near the end, but it suits Elfman’s breakdown quite well and helps with the overall menacing vibe the track is supposed to carry.
- Nothing really major to report video-wise, except that Elfman looks like the strange creature from the Little Baby’s Ice Cream ads.
February 11: “Love in the Time of Covid”
- This is the first of Elfman’s tracks to connect directly to the current pandemic – and it’s about online dating and the struggle to find love in a world where you can’t physically connect.
- Putting aside direct references to online dating and Covid, this song would give me extreme 90s rock vibes. It reminded me a lot of early Nine Inch Nails in many ways, especially the song “Happiness in Slavery” off of their EP Broken. It’s an extremely intense track, one I expect at a lot of Goth Nights when the world’s safer to go out in.
- Elfman still sounds intense on this track but the instrumental works with him much more readily. Gone is the chorus, now there’s only the punk-ier sort of stuff he would’ve gotten up to in his Boingo days.
- The synth work is much more prevalent on this song than on the previous one, and Elfman hasn’t lost even a trace of his absolute magic when it comes to pop music.
- This is a much more fun track than “Sorry” – for obvious reasons – and I’d recommend this as a starter if you don’t care about going in order. I would’ve happily played this on the radio if I was back on air.
- The music video for this track is absolutely delightful, featuring both queer artist and professional ogre Dæmon Clelland aka SHREK 666 and a wonderful little message at the tail end of the credits all in blue text: “SEX WORK IS WORK, TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS, BLACK LIVES MATTER, IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE LGBTQIA+ COMMUNITY”. Bless you, Danny, glad to have you on our side.
March 11: “Kick Me”
- Important note: major epilepsy warning on the music video – so many flashing lights.
- Dipping into his heavy metal side, this track is Elfman’s reflection on the shallow emptiness and unhappiness of the wealthy. The song’s center point appears to be the idea that “any attention is good attention” and he leans heavily on this and on the inherent vanity that the wealthy tend to carry.
- I really enjoyed Josh Freese’s drums on this track and the work of the Lyris Quartet – including the latter’s Nightmare-esque string breakdown in the middle of the track. I’m a sucker for pounding drums and well-done strings.
- This is a song that’ll bash you over the head with its meaning. Not necessarily a bad thing, sometimes you need that anvil on the head energy. But it’s worth mentioning that if you’re looking for something subtle this isn’t it.
- Video-wise, I really enjoyed the stylized CGI that popped up in places. It reminded me a bit of the “Rubber Johnny” Aphex Twin video from the 2000s. Also, I love Elfman’s tattoos.
Overall, while the first track fell a little flat for me I’m really enjoying Elfman’s newest project. It’s wonderful to see him back in the pop-rock music world again even if it’s only for a while and I’m excited to see where he takes this project.
I’ll see you all in June for the second round of the Elfman Roundup! Maybe then I’ll have a better name for this.