In a recent interview with AOL’s Noisecreep, Mike Patton attempted to sum up who Mondo Cane is for, “If you like orchestral music and have a heart in your fucking chest, you will like this record.” In keeping with Patton’s seemingly life-long preoccupation with non-linear career-jumps, Mondo Cane does exactly what many of the vocalist’s other projects have in the past: It requests that the audience place their trust in Patton as he experiments in a direction that few others would even consider following. And for the most part, fans’ trust has been repaid handsomely. In that sense, Mondo Cane is no different.
The project is the result of a decade-long idea which was inspired by Patton’s time spent living in Italy. Engaging in the culture and language — oh, also, his wife is Italian — Patton nurtured an appreciation for the country’s music; not modern music however, but rather pop and folk songs from the 1950s and 60s. As he continued to familiarize himself with the music, Patton began to conceptualize what these same songs would sound like if he were to perform them… with an orchestra. And over the past few years he has done just that, performing numerous times with a band and orchestra while he rips through his Italian lyrics. The release itself finds Patton teamed with a 15-piece band and 40-piece orchestra performing a selection of the very same songs that initially inspired the singer. “My 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.”
Widely considered one of the most representative artists of Italian pop music from the era, a variety of Gino Paoli’s songs are strung together throughout the record. Perhaps the best selection of his is the opening track however, “Il Cielo In Una Stanza.” Popularized by Mina in 1960, where it topped Italian charts and reached the Billboard Hot 100, the song is introduced by a creaking organ that spookily rolls under a playful vocal duet. Early on in the track Patton’s range is tested, though amusingly it’s his animated annunciation of the lyrics which is most striking — the singer often rolling his tongue in perfect synch with the orchestra behind him.
“Che Notte!” follows, with Patton bouncing his menacing vocals off of the rapid trumpet-led accompaniment. A buzzing guitar and steady piano open Fred Bongusto’s “Ore D’Amore,” a song which peaked at #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967 when released as “The World We Knew (Over and Over)” by Frank Sinatra. Ennio Morricone’s Danger Diabolik theme “Deep Deep Down” follows, marking one of the recording’s high points for both the musicians and the singer. With the song, and album for that matter, Patton continually balances between the structure, mood, and tone of the original composition and his own blazing translation. In “Deep Deep Down” he enhances the vocal part — something which has never been too difficult for Patton — but later concedes to the band, taking an equal role with the underlying music. The shift back and forth, not simply in this particular song however, is one that exemplifies the artistry found within the musicians’ compelling relationship.
Luigi Tenco’s gentle violin-led “Quello Che Conta” from the 1962 film La Cuccagna follows, slowing the pace of Mondo Cane down considerably while adding a tangible depth to the collection. The Blackmen’s 1967 psychedelic/garage-rock track “Urlo Negro” splashes down quickly after, breaking the gentle surface created by “Quello” with a rumbling drum introduction and Patton’s shrieking vocals. The song is relatively intense compared to the rest of the record and stands as a distinct outlier on the album, but in keeping with the continual shift in pace throughout Mondo Cane its rambunctious velocity sounds amazing.
“Scalinatella” has the unenviable position of following the overwhelming “Urlo Negro.” As the meandering folk song fades out the theme to 1965′s L’Uomo Che Non Sapeva Amare hits with a boom, but despite its gigantic sound neither Patton nor the orchestra spin their parts outside of the restraints of the original recording’s structure; then again, Mondo Cane IS a covers album. The galloping “20 KM Al Giorno” lends a variety of solo-moments for the band while Patton croons out the remainder of the recording with “Ti Offro Da Bere” and “Senza Fine.”
As far as needing to have a heart and an appreciation of orchestral music to enjoy Mondo Cane goes, Patton might be a little off. Compared to one of his last projects, the polarizing Peeping Tom release which compiled such guests as Norah Jones, Kool Keith, and Rahzel into an avant-garde aural orgy, Mondo Cane is quite accessible. Not just accessible, actually, but enticing. This credit can’t entirely be given to Patton however; it would be criminal to neglect just how much of the enjoyment from the music comes from the actual musicians. The orchestra and band work together to create a stunning interpretation of each song that gracefully enhances Patton’s glowing vocals. So no, to enjoy Mondo Cane you don’t need an appreciation of orchestral music and a heart in your fucking chest; just a heart and a pair of ears, Mr. Patton. Just a heart and a pair of ears.