Chris Isaak

Wicked Game

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Song Review by Steve Huey

"Wicked Game" became a surprise Top Ten hit for early rock revivalist Chris Isaak in 1990, following its appearance on the soundtrack of the David Lynch film Wild at Heart. The success of "Wicked Game" sent Heart Shaped World, the 1989 album on which the song had originally been released, back onto the charts, where it also reached the Top Ten on its way to sales of over two million copies. While "Wicked Game" didn't sound like much else on Top 40 radio at the time, it's not hard to see why the song became a hit once people had a chance to hear it. It's a moody, quietly intense ballad full of heavy, shimmering atmospherics and smoky crooning from Isaak. His voice can drop into a hushed baritone or -- as on the chorus -- break into a quavering, sobbing falsetto that floats over the music like misty night air. The song's opening hook is based on the use of the tremolo bar on a clean-toned electric guitar, swooping into a downward dive and then rising back up on a completely different note. In spite of its simplicity, the result is quite evocative -- it's ethereal, even ghostly, and feels like the sonic equivalent of a brief but queasy zero-G drop in the pit of one's stomach, sliding just a little bit farther down than the ear expects before resolving onto stable ground. Spare, ringing electric arpeggios hang in the air over a gently strummed acoustic guitar and whisper-quiet brushwork on a snare drum. The tremolo bar also adds a shaky shimmer to the electric guitar's background chords during some of the verses, underlining its crucial importance to the song's overall effect. But Isaak's brooding, sorrowfully conflicted reading of the song is the real focus, and the reason it delivers emotional weight behind all the atmosphere.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Heart Shaped World 1989 Reprise 4:46
Wild at Heart [Original Soundtrack] 1990
Original Soundtrack
Polydor 4:05
Wicked Game 1991 Reprise 4:49
Cosmopolitan, Vol. 2 1992
Various Artists
Sandstone 4:04
Sounds of the Eighties: The Rolling Stone Collection, 1988-1989 1995
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:50
Kuschelrock, Vol. 5 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:46
The Family Man 2000
Original Soundtrack
Sire / WEA 4:48
The Very Best of MTV Unplugged, Vol. 2 2003
Various Artists
Warner Music / MTV / Unplugged / Warner 4:54
Best of Chris Isaak 2006 Reprise / Wicked Game 4:46