- Category: Albums
A pop album with clever twists and a laid back listening experience.
A pop album with clever twists and a laid back listening experience.
Audio Fidelity continue in their quest to bring the highest quality sound and vinyl releases to those records that are otherwise ignored by the Audiophile community. Ie instead of the same reissues of jazz and classic rock titles by the other labels Audio Fidelity cast their nets wider to bring you gems like Kate Bush and Barry White.
What an utterly unpredictable career Mike Patton has enjoyed. Plucked from obscurity in 1989 to front Faith No More, his first album with the group, The Real Thing, scored commercial success with its hook-laden, brashly absurd rap-rock. Several years of touring later, however, and formerly fresh-faced skater-boi Patton now boasted the ugliest goatee rock has ever known, and was growling, belching and crooning his way through avant-metal bruisers and straight-faced saccharine pop covers, a perverse path Faith No More would maintain until their 1998 split.
Exiting the lucrative rap/rock niche as lesser bands swooped in to exploit it, the now-solo Patton founded his own record label (Ipecac), voiced video games, performed movie soundtracks with metal super-group Fantômas, and collaborated with Björk, Norah Jones, The Dillinger Escape Plan and avant-garde composer John Zorn, among many, many others. Inspiration for Mondo Cane, meanwhile, came while Patton was living in Italy with then-wife, Italian artist Titi Zuccatosta, immersing himself in the Italian pop music from the 1950s and 60s that still swamped the country’s radio-waves.
Mondo Cane, then, is a heartfelt tribute to this era, to its wild dynamism, its lush orchestration, its sense of high drama and grand romance. Patton spares no expense in execution of this labour of love, arranging songs by Ennio Morricone, Gino Paoli and Fred Bongusto for a 40-piece orchestra and accompanying choir, his loving ear for detail evident in the Spaghetti Western mouth-harp twang that opens 20km al di Giorno, and the gypsy violin singing away at the close of Ti Offro da Bere.
Patton, who is fluent in Italian and sings as such, easily matches the orchestra for bombast and sweep, perfectly evoking the aching sentimentalism of L’Uomo Che Non Sapeva Amare, heroically hamming-up the Romeo-smarm for Ore D’Amore, and revelling in the vivid vamp of Che Notte! He clearly relishes the heightened emotion of his source material, the album wisely avoiding cheap campiness in favour of respecting the music’s rich sense of drama, while his cover of Urlo Negro, by garage-psychedelicists The Blackmen – ricocheting between rumbling tribal battle music, and a booming chorus so bold it’d make Tom Jones blush – might just be the most gonzo recording of Patton’s none-more-gonzo career.
Very digital sounding but pressed on pretty good heavyweight vinyl. Scuff marks on the vinyl but don't seem to be audible. There is a strange almost vibrating sound to Patton's voice sometimes. This could be because the record is culled from a series of live performances he gave. Beautiful die cut triple gatefold sleeve. Gorgeous artwork and flimsy inner sleeve.
Since 1994 Wilco have proved themselves one of the most reliable and enjoyable bands to occupy the upper tier of indie-rock hierarchy, though recent LPs Sky Blue Sky (2007) and Wilco (The Album) (2009) might have dented their reputation somewhat as one of the most exciting. Although not bad albums by any stretch of the imagination, they rarely displayed the depth of imagination and beauty present across the group’s back catalogue, exemplified on 2002’s stunning Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
It’s pleasing to be able to report, then, that the band seems both relaxed and reinvigorated on The Whole Love, which is equally at home spinning into stormy electric guitar crescendos as it is offering up deft acoustic numbers. The current line-up has been in place since 2004, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone notably receiving a production credit here, while renowned guitarist Nels Cline’s contribution feels more vital to proceedings than ever before.
But it is on the strength of Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting that the band ultimately succeeds, and here he seems ready and willing to embrace some of the complexities and strangeness that have made their best work so enthralling. Art of Almost makes for a terrific, though slightly misleading opening gambit; Tweedy has noted its position in the tracklisting stems from not having any idea what people will make of it. A dark, hypnotic groove boasting programmed beats, sweeping strings and a deep low end before a thunderous wig-out to finish, it will doubtless (and not for the first time) earn the band many Radiohead comparisons. Yet with Tweedy’s forlorn, husky pipes at its fore it remains indubitably a product of the Chicago sextet: one that confidently sketches out new territory for the group while sounding almost purpose-built to reward repeated listens.
Lead single I Might furnishes its chugging, catchy hooks with another expressive vocal from Tweedy, who whoops, sighs and hollers his way through the song in playful, free-associative style, while Open Mind is one of the most straightforwardly gorgeous ballads he’s ever written, of a heartbreaking melody and yearning, unrequited lyric so intuitive you wonder it hasn’t always existed (likewise the exuberant, sunny chorus of Dawned on Me). With the closing One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) the band gracefully unwinds over 12 minutes of twinkling, ruminative acoustica, thus bringing to an end their most adventurous, confident and engaging record in years.
Usual high standard from Wilco regarding vinyl and packaging. Great sound, good pressing. Really sturdy gatefold sleeve. CD included!
Finally it's time to see what triumphs, reality or myth, the destination or the journey. We've waited almost 45 years for this, the near-as-dammit definitive version of one of the great lost classics. So was it worth the heartache, the horse-trading for bootlegs, even the filler surrounding the odd SMiLE relic on flaky later albums like Smiley Smile or 20/20? No doubt about it. The world has a decent sense of how this is going to turn out from those bootlegs and – more pertinently – the 2004 version fashioned by a croaky Brian Wilson, lyricist and co-conspirator Van Dyke Parks and Beach Boys understudies the Wondermints. But there's surely nothing like the real thing. Or the real-ish thing.
It all started with SMiLE's closing statement Good Vibrations, a 1966 number one and mini-masterpiece that reputedly took Wilson a year to complete as he experimented with ‘modular’ recording. Despite the sheer ball-ache, the modular method – the recording of individual elements that could be grafted together at a later date – was to inform the creation of this entire album, a move that put session musicians through ridiculous paces and tried the patience of Capitol Records and the other Beach Boys to such a degree that something had to give. That something was the actual release of the record.
That's one take, anyway. Memories are fuzzy, but the music now it's here is pure and gorgeous, the familiar mesh of brotherly voices exquisite as ever. Its glittering peaks are singles Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains, along with Surf's Up (a different recording from the finale of its 1971 album), harmonic jewel Our Prayer and Wonderful (far prettier and fuller than its cousin on Smiley Smile); but Wilson and Parks had envisaged SMiLE as a song cycle, a "cartoon consciousness" in Parks' own words, that would be naturally symbiotic, the songs hanging together as one. All the sadder, then, that it was shelved and then filleted for ensuing albums.
Some constituents aren't perfect, with Wilson's sillier side peeking out on beautifully constructed follies like Holidays, Barnyard and Vega-Tables of course, but even at their least remarkable these are stepping stones to the good stuff. And, my, if you want stepping stones (remarkable or otherwise) The SMiLE Sessions has got 'em: the standard release is one CD with the cherishable album and another with the best of the earlier/alternative takes, but if you're prepared to remortgage your sandbox you can get five CDs of this, serving up each fascinating (and occasionally less fascinating) ‘module’. Not to mention a 3D SMiLE shop and custom-built surfboard. That's one for completists, then. But your Beach Boys collection hasn't been complete until now, has it?
Sound quality is not amazing, maybe sounding aged, or just generally closed in. Of course, this is Mono?? Vinyl pressing excellent as is the packaging. Gorgeous gatefold sleeve, with an extra sleeve over the top. The reason for this being, Capitol give you the classic album sleeve as it would have been and then an extra sleeve with the actual tracklisting and credits. There is a wonderful 24 page booklet included full of photos of the Beach Boys in their heyday. This album is not to be missed by any fan of vinyl or classic rock and pop. And of course there is the super deluxe version which we have not splashed out on. As well as including, 2 vinyl LPs, 5 CDs and 2 7" singles, it is housed in a remarkable toy or recreation of a shop front. Worth €180??