Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane

7.5 out of 10: The music of Italy’s past beautifully recreated and updated even if Patton could do with a bit more sincerity

Mike Patton’s muse leads him down musical byways long left fallen by the wayside. He’s an aural adventurer, as intrepid as Magellan, and on this occasion fateful crosswinds have blown him towards Italy.

Bologna was Patton’s home whilst married to his Italian bride, and, amongst other things, his time there had him speaking Italian fluently and falling in love with what amounts to Italy’s golden oldies from the 50s and 60s. Mondo Cane, a mildly profane Italian saying that means more or less “the world’s gone to the dogs”, is Patton’s paean to these songs. He gathers together a 40-piece orchestra to faultlessly recreate their lush musical backdrops and a 15-strong band to add a more modern and Pattonesque touch to proceedings. And although the band sometimes overdoes the modern and zany, the orchestra is a stunning thrill ride, the violins swelling the melodies of Ore D’Amore and Senza Fine to dizzy heights, and songs such as 20 Km Al Giorno and Deep Down positively swing.

These songs, however, show up Patton’s one overriding weakness: while he’s capable of singing pretty much anything, Patton is an arch-ironist, more at home singing pastiches and experimenting sonically than with any kind of sincere conveying of emotion. In this, he shares company with the likes of Frank Zappa and Ween, encyclopaedic experimenters who never seem to be taking anything at all seriously despite how much they love music. The songs on Mondo Cane, though, are overdramatic and emotional — and they’re meant to be sung that way. L’Uomo Che Non Sapeva Amare translates to “The Man Who Didn’t Know How to Love”, and the way Patton sings, you begin to wonder if it mightn’t be autobiographical.

Nevertheless, the arrangements and orchestrations are so delightful, the melodies so memorable, that Mondo Cane is a triumph. Like Loveage and Peeping Tom, the product of this Mondo Cane project is an album that people who aren’t Patton fanboys can still love, even if the radio dial on these antipodean shores has never before heard the likes of it.

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