Mike Patton 'Mondo Cane' - CD Review

Horror fans know the vastly talented Mike Patton as much more than the vocalist for the popular (and recently reunited) band Faith No More... we know because Mike's also one of us: among his countless experimental side-projects, the influence of classic horror – and the music of cinema in general – is often at the center of his creative output. The proof is definitely out there: his eccentric and brilliant outfit Fantomas has put out amazing metal covers of themes from The Omen, Spider Baby, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and Rosemary's Baby; his alt-pop project Peeping Tom featured soundtrack loops from The Shining; he scored the black comedy short A Perfect Place (featuring FEARnet fave Bill Moseley and fellow genre player Mark Boone, Jr.); he contributed monster voices for I Am Legend; and last year he crossed over to features with an experimental (and quite cool) score for Crank 2: High Voltage.

That said, it should come as no surprise that another one of Patton's great passions – vintage Italian pop tunes – would intersect with his movie obsession on his latest project, the ultra-cool album Mondo Cane. If you groove on Italian genre flicks – from spaghetti westerns to giallo to fumetti-based fare – then you'll probably feel right at home among this collection of candy-colored Euro-tunes from legendary composers like Ennio Morricone and Gino Paoli. The new album hits stores tomorrow, and we've got a little preview for you today... so turn the page and enjoy!

“My purpose in revisiting these pieces is not to relive the past, not for nostalgia,” Patton explained recently to AOL's Noisecreep, “but more to illustrate through modern and adventurous interpretation exactly how vital and important this music still is.” Frankly, “adventurous” would describe just about everything Patton has explored since his early days in bands like Mr. Bungle... and through his own independent label Ipecac Recordings, Mike has allowed himself and his collaborators total artistic freedom to experiment with just about every mode of music known – metal, dance-pop, jazz, hip-hop, opera, industrial noise, ambient atmospheres, and endless combinations of all the above – with fascinating and sometimes shocking results.

And while we're talking shock, Mondo Cane actually shares its title with the notorious Italian documentary of the same name – which itself kicked off the “shock-doc” subgenre that would later include the Faces of Death series and continues today in various shot-on-video atrocity compilations. Despite the controversy surrounding that film, it achieved international fame in its day thanks to the chart-topping title theme More by Riz Ortolani – who would go on to score another landmark shocker, Cannibal Holocaust.

More isn't included in this collection, but it would have fit in perfectly, as this record represents the peak output of the groovy Italian pop music scene from the '50s and '60s – a period during which soon-to-be-famous composers like Ennio Morricone made their first international splash; Morricone (whose experimental work is also collected in the Ipecac 2-CD compilation Crime and Dissonance) would soon make his genre bones working with Dario Argento on his “Animal Trilogy,” beginning with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Morricone is probably best known stateside for his iconic score for Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but in the horror world he's also famous for scoring John Carpenter's The Thing and his earlier giallo work with Argento and Mario Bava. It's his contribution to Bava's comic-book adaptation Danger: Diabolik that Patton honors here with an excellent cover of the smooth-groovin' main theme Deep Down.

Even if you're not familiar with all (or any) of the composers on the Mondo Cane roster, if you dig giallo-style themes, you'll be totally satisfied with the tasty Italian treats offered here. While it may be vintage pop at heart, this material still bears the unique Patton touch – you hear it immediately in the thundering sound effects, wheezing organ and mixed choirs of the opening track Il Cielo InUna Stanza. Some of the vocal-treatment techniques known from his other projects surface occasionally (phone-box filters, phasing effects and elaborate layering of different pitches), but most of the up-front vocals are played fairly straight, taking full advantage of Patton's vast vocal range – from a robust baritone to a soaring tenor, occasionally giving way to full-on screaming vocals in The Blackmen's Urlo Negro. Tracks like this and the punchy surf-rock vibe and roller-coaster energy of Gianni Morandi's Ti Offro Da Bere prove that this album isn't just about rosy romantic homages, but a demonstration of how a well-written tune can rock hard in any era.

A lot of the material here is played with a lighthearted comic edge – like the cartoony Fred Buscaglione piece Che Notte! which starts by riffing on the Dragnet theme and is sprinkled with police sirens and other goofy sound effects; the slinky, mischievous tone of L’Uomo Che Non Sapeva Amare by Nico Fidenco; and the slightly lecherous beat of 20 KM Al Giorno by Nicola Arigliano. But when Mike chooses to go all epic, it really blows the doors off the joint: Luigi Tenco's Quello Che Conta dishes up a massive widescreen spaghetti-western vibe complete with mariachi-style trumpet solo, finally giving way to lush violin arrangements and mandolin tremolos. On the flipside, when the material calls for a kinder, gentler tone, Patton delivers with equal success: Enzo Bonagura's Scalinatella is a perfect example, with a gentle vocal backed by quiet acoustic guitar; and the rolling, bass-heavy Ore D’Amore by Fred Bongusto has a great bedroom vibe, if you know what I mean (and I think you do).

For my coin, the standouts here are the aforementioned Deep Down, which manages to out-cool the original, and the closing cut Senza Fine by Gino Paoli, which opens on a moody blend of solo violin, light percussion and hushed, almost whispered vocals, building energy from the light, airy first half to the roof-raising climax, exploding in a surge of backing choirs, a tidal wave of strings and chaotic sound effects. Like the rest of the record, it's a class act all the way.

If your exposure to Patton's body of work is limited to Faith No More, this material will come as a major downshift in tone, but I think you'll come to agree that the purity and strength of Mike's vocals serves just about any musical style – old or new. If you're a fan of classic Italian thrillers, you already know that the '60s pop vibe is tightly woven into many of the best titles from the early giallo era (pre-Goblin, that is), so most of these tunes will bring that feeling back to you instantly. For that alone, it's a worthy addition to your collection. If you're already a Patton fan, this will just make you appreciate his versatility that much more. If those aren't good enough reasons to check this one out... well, that's your loss.

Earlier we showed you a clip of Patton performing Deep Down live at Amsterdam's Paradiso auditorium with a 15-piece rock band, backing vocalists and 40-piece orchestra accompaniment – the source of an upcoming Mondo Cane DVD slated for release later this year. So to bid you “ciao” for now, we'll go out with another song from that same session, the opening track (and first official single), Il Cielo In Una Stanza...