I have listened to this album a few times and have no idea where to start. Do you ever feel like that? It is not so much a matter of attempting to write a review, it can be as simple as just trying to figure out what it is supposed to be or looking to explain it to a friend. Mondo Cane is one of those albums that strikes me as being pretty far out there. However, it is a Mike Patton release so the far out there should be an assumed part of the equation. Even still, this is quite different than most of the other Patton work I have heard. If I had to recall anything even remotely in the ballpark it would have to be when Faith No More covered "Easy" by The Commodores. Even that isn't quite right.
With Mondo Cane, Mike Patton takes a trip back in time to Italy of the 1950's and 1960's. From this period in time he has plucked a number of Italian pop songs, which he then takes into the studio with a 40-piece orchestra. In the studio, surrounded by the orchestra, he proceeds to churn them through the recesses of the patent-pending Patton-filter, recording the resulting product and unleashing it upon the unsuspecting world. But that is not all, before even getting to the studio, he assumed an alternate identity, changed his hair and clothing style and took the orchestra out on the road, playing a series of live dates where the audience would gain audience with an American singer who seems to have been schooled in the ways of Italian pop since birth.
Patton truly is an interesting individual. Versatile, eclectic, unique, Renaissance man, gonzo, weird, these are just a few of the words I have seen associated with the man of a million voices, versed in a million different styles. Whenever something new catches his eye or ear, he turns his attention on it and proceeds to carve out his own little corner of the genre, turning it into his personal playground. What is even more interesting is that while he may be carving out a little play area, it is always done with his unique verve and with retention of respect for the source. While some of it may be lighthearted, there is never any disrespect involved.
I will admit to not following his career terribly closely, but whenever I cross paths with his work the results are nothing short of fascinating. This goes all the way back to my first experience with Faith No More, to Mr. Bungle, to more recently with Fantomas (how can you not love avant garde metal interpretations of movie themes on Director's Cut?) and Tomahawk (Anonymous is a brilliant album that interprets Native American Music). Mondo Cane is just another side of this always surprising multifaceted artist.
Where Fantomas saw Patton exercising his growls and screams and Tomahawk exercised the sounds he can create (some lyrics, but definitely non-traditional), his crooning here is much more accessible than some other projects, this despite the language barrier (I do not know a lick of Italian). The music is soft and often quite beautiful in its restraint allowing Patton's vocals to have center stage. I do not see this as any sort of vanity project as it could possibly be interpreted. If anything I do not get any impression of vanity or self indulgence, he is an artist of varied tastes who just wants to try it all to the best of his ability.
Just listen to the music, it slides along with buttery smoothness. Patton's voice sounds right at home, occasionally cutting loose with some screams, but primarily living in the clean, intelligible, easy flowing style of the source pop. There are a few performances that demonstrate Patton at his best here.
Listen to the cover of Ennio Moricone's "Deep Down" (from the 1968 film Danger Diabolik), it is insidious in its catchiness and is just a great listen. Another track of note is "Scalinatela" (Massimo Ranieri), accompanied by Spanish guitar, his voice is quite beautiful. I am also fond of "Che Notte!" with its playful almost cartoon-like atmosphere.
Bottomline. I did not know how to start, I am not sure how to end. While this is pretty accessible, it is still weird, wonderful, and intriguing. Patton must be one of the busiest guys in the business, always turning out interesting creations. This is no different. It is fascinating to the last note.