September 9, 2019 Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier – Corpse Flower (Album Review)
Few musicians possess the experimental spirit and endless love of all things music that abounds in the heart of Mike Patton. Teaming with French Composer Jean-Claude Vannier, he unfolds Corpse Flower on Friday, September 13th, 2019, via Ipecac Recordings.
Thankfully, unlike the titular Amorphophallus titanum, which can take decades to bloom, Patton is a fairly prolific musician. A master of the bizarre, the multi-talented Patton is a musician, songwriter, actor, producer, and composer who fronts the incomparable Faith No More and is the genius behind 2010’s Mondo Cane, among a zillion other projects. Equally talented is the renowned French Composer Vannier, who has nine solo albums to his credit but is perhaps best known for his work with Serge Gainsbourg, particularly the 1971 concept album Histoire de Melody Nelson.
When the pair met at a Gainsbourg retrospective in 2011, the seeds of Corpse Flower were planted. Six years later, amidst a budding friendship full of mutual, creative respect, the pair began the process of crafting a truly unique musical experience that utterly obliterates genre. The 12-song collection was produced by Patton and features a variety of musicians from both Los Angeles and Paris, including Smokey Hormel (Beck, Johnny Cash), Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, Air, Nine Inch Nails), James Gadson (Beck, Marvin Gaye), Denys Lable, Bernard Paganotti (Magma), Daniel Ciampolini, Didier Malherbe, Léonard Le Cloarec and the Bécon Palace String Ensemble.
Corpse Flower opens to “Ballad C.3.3.” where Patton laments “Each man kills the things he loves” in a velvety smooth, smoky toe-tapper that couples bluesy grit with the words of Oscar Wilde (“The Ballad of Reading Gaol”). Mix in a deathly howl, plenty of cigarettes and whiskey, and you’ve got the album’s first track, a unique introduction to a wonderfully peculiar collection that continues with “Camion.” Beginning with a spat of dissonant guitar that builds into a cinematic vignette, the second track gently meanders down the mountain with the necessary malaise and apathy worthy of humanity.
Piano and strings launch the sultry nostalgia of “Chansons D’Amour,” not a cover of the Manhattan Transfer track but rather a look at love songs and migraines. Meanwhile, the ironic “Cold Sun Warm Beer” opens with more dissonant sounds, layering these textures with commercialism to craft a bold yet bizarre experience that might have been alternately titled “The Budweiser Before Christmas.”
Straight from the set of a Neo Western, “Browning” introduces the titular character who just might be a real son of a gun. A truly offbeat look at gun culture, the track is both disturbing and enlightening, a harsh condemnation with an ironic smirk. Next, if it’s possible to sound like an early black-and-white Horror film, “Hungry Ghost” achieves this vibe as its Gothic bells ring the macabre tale that suggests our love makes us all exsanguinists.
The titular “Corpse Flower” blooms with punctuated strings and whisper-soft vocals that muse through a curious list of multilingual meat-products, a carnivorous hell. Then, Spanish and Italian flavors dust across the drifting umbrella ride of the quirky ballad “Insolubles” before Patton’s velvety vocals opens the obnoxious “On Top of the World,” a raucous piss atop the Earth. Coupling smooth, smoky verses with blunt, punky choruses, the polarizing track is apt to either make you laugh or shake your head in disgust—there’s no in between.
The cinematic Americana of “Yard Bull” seemingly offers some socio-political commentary as it rides the rails into the ominous percussion of “A Schoolgirl’s Day,” the Rock-n-Roll reading of a girl’s daily schedule—with a plot twist. Ultimately, lofty orchestration sways around the sweeping ballroom epic “Pink and Bleue,” an elegant and refined sonic landscape that contrasts brilliantly with some truly amusing confessions and drunken musings.
The key to understanding much of Corpse Flower is in appreciating the intentionally off-kilter juxtaposition of Patton and Vannier’s musical arrangements with their accompanying lyrical wit; it’s certainly strange and unusual, and there are absolutely no barriers for these exceptional artists. With poetic lyrics that are never extraneously verbose, but often a bit wacky and always open to interpretation, Corpse Flower is an unsettling and freakishly chill adventure through a series of filmic vignettes that always harness the unexpected. Those without appreciation for the Avant-garde or a good sense of humor need not apply! For this, Cryptic Rock give Mike Patton and Jean-Claude Vannier’s Corpse Flower 5 of 5 stars.