Isaak's big break came when director David Lynch, who had already used two of his songs in Black Velvet, used an instrumental version of Isaak's 1989 "Wicked Game" in his 1990 movie Wild at Heart. Spurred on by an Atlanta disc jockey/Lynch fan, "Wicked Game" began getting major airplay and became a bestselling single in 1991, complete with supermodel-featuring music video. It cemented a solid niche for Isaak as a retro midtempo genius who dabbled with some edgier ideas now and again, like in Eyes Wide Shut's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing." Some friends and I thought that the Tom Petty-Bob Dylan-Jeff Lynne-George Harrison supergroup The Traveling Wilburys should recruit Isaak after co-Wilbury Roy Orbison passed away in 1988. He had the pipes and the style to handle Orbison's work and would have brought an interesting new dimension to the group, since at the time he would have brought a much younger talent and voice to it. But nobody listened to us. Which is also why Lawrence, Kansas' Homestead Grays never made it big, either.
Anyway, Isaak put together a full 25 covers of Sun Records' classics -- as well as one or two tracks from Sun artists recorded after they left the studio, like Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love." That he excels at the crooner tunes is expected; they are hanging curves right in the middle of his strike zone and he handles them accordingly. The surprise comes when he tackles smoking rave-ups like Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" and Jimmy Wages' "Miss Pearl." Isaak has spent a career being cool and blue, but on these and several others he fires up the red hot and lets it fly with excellent results.
Each of these songs is pure homage; Isaak sings in his own voice but modifies it to take on some of the qualities of the earlier versions. On the Elvis songs he doesn't sound like Elvis, but he does sound like what you might imagine Elvis would sound like if he were imitating Chris Isaak. Again, that has the success you'd expect on the Presley and Orbison numbers, since their vocal styles were closest to Isaak's own. But it also works on numbers by Lewis, Carl Perkins and even Johnny Cash. The overall effect is a great listen. Isaak, a modern artist steeped in retro context (on the cover of 1998's Speak of the Devil, he's taking a call on a plain black rotary dial phone), plays and sings the Sun Records catalog as though he had been on Sam Phillips' payroll.
Beyond the Sun is a TARDIS of a record, a trip back in time to the explosion of rock and roll before it differentiated itself entirely from its country, blues and pop standards roots. If that music is to your taste, you'll probably love it. If it's not to your taste, please seek medical attention immediately.