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The soundtrack to the original Twin Peaks is one of its most iconic and adored elements; Angelo Badalametti's evocative score, created in direct collaboration with Lynch himself, does an incredible job of enriching the mood and underscoring the emotion of almost every scene. Complimenting this are the songs sung by Julee Cruise; in an unusual feature for the time, Cruise is character herself, a singer at the local bar called the Roadhouse. Her angelic vocals and dreamy melodies created an ethereal ambience to her performances, where the lines between dimensions would often seem to blur; this is perhaps most notable in Episode 14, where the Giant appears on stage over Cruise as she sings a heartbreaking ballad, and delivers a devastating message to Coop, while the Elderly Waiter offers his condolences.
Building on this foundation of music existing in the space between worlds, The Return features a range of acts performing at the Roadhouse, often reflecting of the mood and themes of the episode they're featured in. Here I'm going to take a look at some of them in focus and what they might mean for the narrative of Twin Peaks.
"She's Gone Away" by "The" Nine Inch Nails (featured in Part 8 "Gotta Light")
The Return's most acclaimed and talked about episode so far, Part 8 also ironically included the musical performance that most sharply divided opinion; given that it featured the discordant industrial rock sounds of Nine Inch Nails, this is hardly surprising. But whether you loved or hated the actual song, for me it's musical style, mood and presentation fit perfectly into this darkest and oppressive of episodes. Unlike the performances we'd seen so far, which all closed out their episodes, NIN's performance was placed about a third of the way in, and when you look at what happens around it, it's easier to see its potential significance.
After Ray has double-crossed and shot Mr. C, the nightmarish effigies that are the Woodsmen appear and begin some kind of unholy ritual around the dead doppelganger. Ray flees in fear and places a panicked phone call to "Phillip Jeffries," and then we cut to the Roadhouse. From the moment the act is introduced by an MC who bears a striking resemblance to Jimmy Scott, who sang the haunting "Sycamore Tree's" inside the Red Room during the season two finale, everything about this scene is aesthetically evocative of the Black Lodge; the red velvet curtains of the stage, the spot-lights and strobing effects, and sounds of crackling static and rushing wind that begin the song, all recall that most unnerving of Twin Peaks' spaces.
Moments before we cut to this scene, the Woodsmen are seen dancing around Mr. C in a bizarre ceremonial fashion; the stilted yet rhythmic posturing of the band and the thunderous drum beat also have a ritualistic vibe, and it's surely no coincidence that when the track ends, we smash cut back to Mr. C bolting upright, seemingly revived. It's as though the Black Lodge energies the Woodsmen channel to resurrect Mr. C are passing through the Red Room, and therefore the Roadhouse and Nine Inch Nails themselves, along the way.
As well as the Black Lodge overtones, the title of song "She's Gone Away" evokes Laura Palmer and the lack of her light in The Return, with some of the lyrics ("I can't remember what she came here for," "Yeah I was watching on the day she died") almost feeling like the perspective of the Roadhouse itself on Laura's life; other lyrics feel like ominous foreshadowing of events we see later in Part 8 ("Spread the infection where you spill your seed," "A little mouth opened up inside"). Considering the song was written and published some time before The Return, it's borderline magical to how well it fits. While "She's Gone Away" may not be the most aurally pleasing of tunes, it's atmospheric and thematic substance make it one of The Return's best musical moments.
"Shadow" by Chromatics (featured in Part 2 "The Stars Turn and a Time Presents Itself")
Coming at the end of Part 2, itself shown in a double feature presentation with with Part 1, "Shadow" is the song that follows The Return's first real nostalgia hit in the Roadhouse, and concludes for viewers their first experience of new Twin Peaks in 25 long years; it's no wonder then that the melancholic dream pop tune has already secured its place in the hearts of many fans. What's interesting about the Chromatics performance though it where it potentially fits chronologically and based on that, what significance the lyrics may have.
When The Return first began airing, it was largely assumed that events taking place were being seen in a linear chronological order and that what we saw at the Roadhouse was happening within the first day or so of the timeline. But as the show has gone on, some events that seem like inconsistencies may actually be due to the story being presented in a non-linear fashion. With that in mind, it could well be that the above-mentioned scene takes place far later in the timeline that when we first believe. There are a few things that suggest this; in Part 14, Freddie and James talk about finishing their last delivery and then heading over to the Roadhouse, where James hopes to meet the eye of Renee — the only other time we've seen them together is in Part 2's Roadhouse scene, where James does indeed exchange glances with Renee. In Part 11, Shelley has a brief meeting with Red outside the Double R and they agree to meet in the "usual place" later — the only previous time we've seen Shelley and Red together is Part 2's Roadhouse scene, during which they make eyes across the dance floor.
It's of course plausible that both James and Freddie, and Shelley and Red, have been around each other at the Roadhouse of many different occasions; but in a series like Twin Peaks that only ever shows us what we need to see, it seems unlikely to be coincidence. Considering this, and how the Chromatic's performance might actually be happening later than events in Parts 11 and 14, "Shadow's" lyrics can't help feeling like a portent of doom — "Shadow...take me down with you..for the last time"; given the gradual build toward a Twin Peaks return for Mr. C, and a possible invasion of the blackened, shadow like Woodsmen ("men are coming"), this is troubling stuff indeed. Could the Chromatic's moment in the Roadhouse be the final calm before the storm, before the darkest clouds are in place over Twin Peaks?
Much like "She's Gone Away," there are also lyrics here that seem to allude to Laura Palmer, whose ghostly presence has loomed large over this season, "I take your picture from the frame, and now you're nothing like you seem." We've repeatedly seen the image of Laura as Homecoming Queen represent her in The Return, and in the original, that picture was framed above the Palmer's mantle-piece; could these lyrics imply that way we've seen and thought about Laura until now is about to be radically changed? And if so, how — for better or worse? As the Log Lady presciently observed — "Laura is The One."
"Axolotl" by The Veils (featured in Part 15 "There's Some Fear in Letting Go")
Thanks to its name's connection to Aztec mythology, "Axolotl" is a track with some very rich symbolism — I must give credit here to E.G. Mykkels, (@steel_neena) who writes and edits for 25yearslatersite.com, for being the first I saw to make the Aztec connection and inspiring some of this thinking. Axolotl is the name of a form taken by Aztec God of Fire, Lightning, and Death, Xolotl; fire and lightning (read: electricity) are, of course, associated with Black Lodge energy, which we saw plenty of in Part 15, and death is especially poignant as we said tearful goodbyes to Margaret Lanterman aka The Log Lady. He's also associated with misfortune, sickness, and deformities, which thematically have all been a big part of The Return; they're widespread and indiscriminate in Frost and Lynch's vision of Twin Peaks' America.
Xolotl was said to have guarded the Sun as it traveled every night through the underworld, and Aztecs believed that he guided the souls of the dead there too. Could this role then have some symbolism in the role of any Twin Peaks character? We certainly see Mr. C guided through the Black Lodge (which could be interpreted as the underworld, or Hell) by Woodsmen, but they largely seem to lack individual personalities. MIKE could fit the bill, a frequently sinister presence (as Xolotl is described) who guides Coop, a beacon of light like the sun, through his undeath in the Red Room, and Las Vegas. Like Xolotl, MIKE can also appear in three different forms — Gerard, The Man From Another Place, and The Evolution of the Arm; interestingly, in the mythology of Xolotl, his three forms are maize (corn), an axolotl (a type of salamander that visually made me think of the frog-bug), and an agave plant.
As well as the title, Axolotl's lyrics have some good analogies in them; "I'm glowing bright, obsidian", evokes Mr. C and his powerful, dark black aura, as does "un-elemental chemical" — like the Blue Rose, the Doppelganger is not natural, not of this world. In an episode where we're given another look into Audrey's strange situation, the line "A little nightmarish, a little maudlin" feels an apt description of her scenes. There are flashes of Audrey's existential crisis too, "Oh my soul, losing control...who built this heart?" and as we've seen the connections between Audrey and Mr. C become more entangled and troublesome, the conflating of these lyrical references to them could be prophetic.