Named after the notorious 1962 Italian shockumentary, Mondo Cane presents the latest vehicle for Mike Patton’s post-Faith No More work, some of which has been good, if enigmatic (Fantômas, Tomahawk), and some of which hasn’t (Peeping Tom). The new album features Patton’s careful yet sometimes iconoclastic re-workings of Italian pop songs from the 1950s and 60s, crooned over the skilled contributions of an impressive supporting band. Unlike Patton’s previous forays into the experimentalism of John Zorn or Merzbow, Mondo Cane delivers a more conventional set, heavy on romantic strings and swaying nostalgia.
The choice of themes is less a mystery than one would think, given that Patton was married to Italian artist Titi Zuccatosta for seven years. Until their separation in 2001, he owned a home in Bologna. Consequently, Patton speaks fluent Italian, and in 2008, he told Starpulse that, during his time spent in Italy, he developed a love for “this stuff” and found himself “listening to a lot of singers from that era.” Patton further elaborated that he “realized the orchestrations were incredible, and that a lot of people who were playing and doing studio work at that time were really on point.” He ultimately reached a point where he asked himself, “What if?”
The album opens with Gino Paoli’s “Il Cielo In Una Stanza,” an excellent example of the broad, sweeping sounds to expect from the rest of the album. Patton’s voice soars over the intricate wash of strings, swinging percussion, and retrospective arrangement. While his rhythmic shouting and growling always fit the rap-rock of Faith No More, it was often limited by the conventional structures of standard rock ‘n’ roll fare. In this setting, his singing commands central attention and carries the esoteric selections. When he inevitably turns to renowned Italian composer Ennio Morricone to cover “Deep Down,” the theme from the 1968 Italian spy film Danger Diabolik, it’s Patton’s voice that delivers an echoing rendition more than any other facet of the music.
Offsetting the rich textures and grand sweep of the more bombastic numbers, Patton chooses Luigi Tenco’s softer “Quello Che Conta” from the 1962 film La Cuccagna for an adagio. Its violins and smooth cellos meander in the background, slowing things to a pensive crawl that works well after the riotous feel of preceding numbers. There are a number of soundtrack pieces here, and that’s to be expected with any of Patton’s projects. His penchant for covering movie themes has extended through every corner of his career, from Faith No More’s 1992’s exceptional cover of John Barry’s “Midnight Cowboy” on Angel Dust to the 2001 Fantômas album dedicated to movie pieces, The Director’s Cut.
Still, it may be Neopolitan folk song “Scalinatella” that stands as the apex. It fulfills the cinematic feel of the rest of the work presented here, capturing the overall taste of Italian themes and delivering some of the strongest musical moments. In it, Patton assumes the role of storyteller, describing a lover’s longing and the quiet beauty of a coastal seascape. It’s when Patton trades on his unique ability to deliver an intense range of real emotions that he exceeds expectations, and despite being an homage to classic Italian recordings, Mondo Cane works much like his best work to date. It delivers an affecting stop gap, but with Faith No More touring this summer, most of the Patton aficionados who will give this release a chance are simply waiting for the inevitable reunion album.