Album Review: Mike Patton - 'Mondo Cane'

14 May 2010 | 9:04 pm | Staff Writer

Mike Patton covering classic Italian pop music with an orchestra? You bet.

Mike Patton is an innovator in every sense of the word. He is an artist who has never compromised his work to please a label or to conform to a trend and in doing so he has continually pushed the boundaries of alternative music in a wide variety of incarnations (including Faith No More, Fantômas, Tomahawk, Peeping Tom… and the list goes on). Staying true to his artistic integrity, Patton is once more setting out to do things his own way, this time with “Mondo Cane”- an album where Patton reinterprets classic Italian pop songs with a 15-piece band and 40-piece orchestra. Did you expect anything less?

Admittedly, Patton is one of only a handful of people who could pull off a stunt like this. If most contemporary rock bands or artists announced that they were going to cover 1950s and 1960s Italian pop music on their next album chances are they would be greeted by their fans with looks of, “What the fuck? Are you totally mad?!?”. However, in this case we are dealing with a man who knows very well how to break the conventional and has a legitimate reason for creating this album.

“Mondo Cane” is the result of a decade-long idea that was initially sparked by Patton’s time living in Italy. Soaking up various aspects of Italian culture, Patton developed an infatuation with pop and folk songs from the 1950s and 1960s and began to ponder what they would sound like if he were to reinterpret them on a much larger scale. And so he did just that. Patton took songs including The Blackman’s “Urlo Negro” and Gino Paoli’s “Senza Fine” to a whole new level by performing them in theaters with a band and orchestra (footage of which you can find on Youtube). Following these select performances, the release of “Mondo Cane” sees Patton export this experience to a broader audience.

So what does it sound like? Well, pretty much what it sounds like on paper: Mike Patton singing in Italian over classic Italian pop songs that are performed by an orchestra. It’s a little bit overwhelming at first, it just sounds so foreign (for obvious reasons, and will unless you speak Italian of course) and over the top with orchestral strings sections and horns sections charging from the speakers. However, once you let your guard down and reassure yourself that it’s Mike Patton orchestrating the show, it’s quite hard not to be swept up by the album’s unusual charm.

To his credit, Patton does a solid job of staying true to the originals while injecting enough of his wacky musical persona into the mix to keep things interesting. To quote Patton, he has stated, “(his) purpose in revisiting these pieces is not to relive the past, not for nostalgia, but more to illustrate through modern and adventurous interpretation exactly how vital and important this music still is”.

I don’t speak Italian, but I wish I could’ve while listening to this album just to understand the words Patton puts so much passion into. While he rolls his tongue in syncopation with the orchestra and places an amusing amount of emphasis on the words, Patton’s idiosyncratic screech still radiates clearly ( see “Urlo Negro” if you want to hear what Faith No More would sound like if they were originally an Italian pop band).

The album is one that needs to be consumed as a whole. It’s tricky to pick out standout tracks because, truth be told, they all share similar characteristics and flow into one another (although I personally found the cabaret groove of “Deep Down” to be a highlight). With that being said, if the album doesn’t grab your attention from the beginning it’s probably best that you reach for the “stop” button before too long.

To be fair, “Mondo Cane” is an album that is going to appeal mostly to long time Mike Patton fans (especially those who enjoy his music at its most experimental). It’s certainly an original idea that is executed with great passion and precision, but one that’s probably just a little too unusual for the masses and will leave a lot of people scratching their heads.

1. Il Cielo In Una Stanza

2. Che Notte!

3. Ore D'Amore

4. Deep Down

5. Quello Che Conta

6. Urlo Negro

7. Scalinatella

8. L'Uomo Che Non Sapeva Amare

9. 20 KM Al Giorno

10. Ti Offro Da Bere

11. Senza Fine

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