Singer Julee Cruise started in musical theater, and the long strange trip of her career has had more than a few interesting stops. The reedy blonde has played Janis Joplin in a touring rock-legends production and worked as a music scout for television; that in turn led to her breakthrough gig as the entertainer in the noirish cocktail lounge of Twin Peaks. Since then she’s also become a performing member of the B-52’s and a solo artist in her own right. Her debut album was firmly in Twin Peaks mode — a collaboration with the TV series’s composer, Angelo Badalamenti, and director David Lynch that wrapped her voice in gauzy, ethereal songs.
Two albums later, her material seems more Esquivel than Lynch, but the music still often sounds as if it had been filtered through fog. The high, breathy range of Cruise’s voice remains as indefinable as protoplasm in all the right places, like "Slow Hot Wind," which — with slide guitars, hushed electronics, and equatorial percussion — lives up its title. This time her primary collaborator is J.J. McGeehan, who’s written music for The X-Files and King of the Hill. Perhaps that’s why numbers like "You’re Staring at Me" and "Falling in Love" shift with quick-cut deliberateness, flashing from bossa nova to Bernard Herrmann string lines and back, or between techno beats and choirs of dark angels. The more things switch, the better, because songs like the title cut tend to blur as the electronic rhythms and muted sonics hold their course. Cruise’s lyrics veer between indecipherable soft focus and bell-toned mantras but don’t amount to much either way. Here the meat is the veneer, and usually that’s sweet enough.