26 September 2019

Album Review: Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier – Corpse Flower

Here we go. It is no secret to anyone that knows me that I hold Mike Patton’s work in VERY high regard. I consider his voice to be one of the best and most versatile you will hear across any music genre. He simply operates on an entirely different level and for that reason I’ve often steered clear of writing about his releases, for danger of obvious bias. However, write I shall, as if I coax just a few of our readers into experiencing this album then it will have been worth it.

To write an entire paragraph without mentioning the other 50% of this musical partnership is criminal, so I will at once correct this. Jean Claude Vannier too is a serious musical maker and shaker, and while prior to this release I knew very little about him, he is a legend in his own right with a musical history that includes a huge body of work with Serg Gainsbourg, scores, soundtracks and solo work. On the face of it, those readers whose main familiarity with Patton is via Faith No More might find such a collaboration surprising and perhaps even obtuse. However, those of us who have followed his output more closely have learnt to always expect the unexpected.

So, picture if you can, on one side of the Atlantic a hugely talented composer of French classic pop and film music presides over an orchestra. On the other side of the pond, another huge talent and purveyor of musical and vocal extremes presides over a band of his own. Songs are conceived in Europe and nurtured in America, and the results are fantastic, and also along the way, fun, seedy, exhilarating, sordid, camp and utterly charming. For those who have followed Patton’s output over the years, I would suggest that the end result falls somewhere between Mondo Cane and the earlier Peeping Tom project.

Moments of my childhood are evoked, old musicals on TV, moments of nostalgia and yearning. Yet there are also sinister undercurrents that give the album depth and mystery without ever undermining the beauty that the pair have crafted.

The album sees the balance between the rock and the orchestral shift throughout, the former dominant in opening track ‘Ballad C.3.3’ whose lyric are based on an Oscar Wilde poem that initially was titled ‘C.3.3’. The track swaggers between cool laid back lounge and more robustly menacing passages, while Patton suavely oozes his words into your mind. ‘Camion’ (French for truck) sees Patton shift into his dark croon describes journeys both literal and metaphorical so a soundtrack of smooth and hypnotic yet slightly insidious pop. ‘Chansons D’amour’ is a ballad of sorts, a playful piano sets the motif for a contrastingly morose set of lyrics and the contrast is quite magical, dreamy classic and darkly surreal pop. The collaboration yields one of its more bombastic and rock tinged moments in ‘Cold Sun, Warm Beer’, with its subtly growling bass and sense of drama allowing Patton to play with who knows how many of his vocal styles in the space of four minutes. ‘Browning’ I will simply describe as gangster swing lounge rock, perhaps. Either way, this tale of betrayal and bullets is great fun. ‘Hungry Ghosts’ brings us to the half way point with gorgeous orchestrations and giddy operatic voice courtesy of the late Anne Germain setting the tone for broken hearted lyrics. Quite the journey already, yet in my opinion the best is still to come.

‘The title track is perhaps one of the more peculiar moments on the album, seemingly a list of uttered phrases inter spaced with a neatly familiar guitar lick and a cartoon tympanic boing. “Bourguignon; Coq-au-vin; Escalope; Pied du cochon” Silly and perhaps even disturbing but it fits. Next, in ‘Insolubles’ we have one of the more beautiful highlights of the album, as Patton delivers a charming, delicate and then rousing vocal over Vannier’s rich and enchanting composition. Musically this could easily be the tear jerking ballad from a classic musical, showing Patton at his most romantic. Another ecstatic moment follows, with ‘Top of the World’. The softly crooned verses barely prepare you for the swagger and pomp of the chorus which revels in shitting and pissing from great heights. I cannot help but grin from ear to ear. ‘Yard Bull’ is entirely more melancholic, a reflective track with hints of country and blues nestling neatly with the classical and pop elements. The penultimate song is ‘A Schoolgirl’s Day’, a narrative lyric informs of of a pedestrian day in the life of said girl, whispered and uttered by Patton to a dramatic noir soundtrack, the normality only shattered by the final line. The album closes with ‘Pink and Bleau’, another emotive piece of song and lyrical writing from the unlikely pair. It is a world weary and battered song delivered on delicate and soaring wings. A beautiful end to the album.

So how can I even sum up this album for you dear listener? It is a collision of worlds that results in something wondrous. Moments of my childhood are evoked, old musicals on TV, moments of nostalgia and yearning. Yet there are also sinister undercurrents that give the album depth and mystery without ever undermining the beauty that the pair have crafted. I am fully aware that I write this review for a rock and metal website, so most who come to this album will do so because of Patton and the heavier music he has produced. However, I urge anyone reading this to listen and give yourself over to ‘Corpse Flower’. Have fun with it, revel in it, treasure it.

More info at Ipecac Records