Mike Patton has always been an intriguing voice in rock music, if his trade lately can be called rock at all. Though he’s most well known as the frontman for Faith No More, Patton has dipped his finger in every genre under the sun across a wildly experimental solo and collaborative career. His debut was an album of vocal-only gyrations recorded in hotel rooms while on tour. He hasn’t abandoned that flair for eclecticism since. The 2000s saw him tread over more accessible material, recently exploring jazz and modern classical. His latest, Corpse Flower, is a collaborative effort with French composer Jean-Claude Vannier, and it certainly lets us know Patton’s polymath heart is beating.
This is essentially a French film noir set to music. Thankfully, there’s no better man for the job than Patton. He’s always had a flair for the absurd, with his vocal performances often being knowingly theatrical and overwrought. He brings this to bear in full force across Corpse Flower’s 12 tracks, which sound like an expressionist Raymond Chandler set to music. Vannier provides a lush sonic backdrop throughout, with all manner of swooping strings, bongos and accordions. This is rich, fully orchestrated music.
Your enjoyment will rest on how much you enjoy the idea of Patton enjoying himself. Patton’s clearly having fun with the atmosphere, with half these tracks being more spoken word than song. Opener Ballade C.3.3. sets the template. Patton’s lyrics are at their most overt, and therefore questionable (“Each man kills the thing that he loves” etc) but he carries it all with such campy conviction that you can’t help but crack a smile. Camion (French for truck) sees Patton louchely throw off roadside imagery before shouting “Camion!” to finish each verse against a dramatic Vannier violin figure. Browning is a silly piece of hardboiled narration set to music, the chorus so stupid that it’s transcendent (“Bang bang bang / shoot shoot shoot / kill kill kill / bleed bleed bleed”). Insolubles is a knowingly ridiculous and maudlin European-styled ballad. The song is a complete put-on and, while I can’t say much for Patton’s French pronounciation, his faux-pained delivery is glorious. Yard Bull is the highlight, boasting a beautiful melody and a great little trilling keyboard figure courtesy of Vannier. Opening single On Top of the World is also fun, with the most rocking moments on the album.
It is difficult to fault this album per se, as it’s technically flawless and compositionally strong, with no weak points apart from the throwaway A Schoolgirl’s Day. It’s an experimental mood piece that doesn’t take itself too seriously, so your mileage may vary. The atmosphere can get a bit one-note, and at no point does Patton strive for authenticity, but if you’re in for some tongue-in-cheek camp performed with utmost professionalism, then this may be what the doctor ordered.