On May 4th 2010 Mike Patton released his album featuring cover versions of 1950s and 1960s Italian pop music. Mondo Cane.
Mondo Cane is a cover album of 1950s and 1960s Italian pop songs all arranged by Patton. It was recorded with an orchestra, a fifteen-piece band, and a choir, all made on a live tour, with the album's tracks assembled as composites from the first three dates of the Italian leg of the tour. Each song contains elements taken from different recordings, with Patton describing the process as "a giant Rubiks Cube", noting that individual bars of one instrument's music might be lifted from one concert and layered with bars of another instrument's parts from another concert.
The Quietus | 2010
"It was more like I was talking to a quartet of guys in Rome and we were just going to do something in nightclubs around town and that would be it."
Noise Creep | 2010
"I lived there [Italy] for a number of years and got enamored with the music. It was none of the modern music, oddly enough. I found this radio station that played oldies, and it inspired me to think of a new way of interpreting them. The music made sense to me immediately, and I knew that some day I would do my interpretation of this kind of music."
Metal Sucks | 2010
"When you’re attacking music like this — or really when you’re doing any covers, in my opinion — you have to do them somewhat aggressively. You have to take liberties that maybe aren’t present in the material that you’re working with. For me, it’s important to wrestle these pieces of music to the ground. They’re already perfect. I’m not going to make them better. I’m just gonna make them different. So you wrestle them to ground and figure out what you’re going to do with them."
Pop Matters | 2010
"Well, not all ideas are like a twinkling star in the sky and you get inspired to make a record the next day. I was living in Italy at the time, and at the highest point in my love affair with this classic Italian music and I realized, “Goddamnit, someday if I have a chance, if I’m brave enough at the moment, I’m gonna try and do something like this.” But it was always one of those “one day” type things. You know…what if? Many, many years later, I had the chance to work with an orchestra and a little light bulb went off, and I said to myself, “I’m not going to let this chance go.” There were many more phases and months of work after that, but that’s the life span of it right there."
Verbicide | 2010
"I took a bunch of live recordings that we did and realized what I wanted to do, which was make a sort of…”illusion” record. Something that was basically based on live recordings, but sounded like a studio recording. That took a lot of time, you know, editing recordings. [I had] three concerts, and I took the best of the best, from bar to bar, from note to note, and second to second. So that was a whole lot of surgery. [I also had to bring] it up to the level where I wanted it to be. I couldn’t, at the time, when we were doing the concerts. We either didn’t have the time or the manpower to recreate all the arrangements and all the ideas that I had. So I took my chance to do that in the studio, and that’s part of the reason the record is coming out now."
The Skinny | 2010
“[Mondo Cane] Is an old Italian saying, almost a mild curse that means ‘the world has gone to the dogs’, or ‘it’s a dog’s world.’ Also, of course I was familiar with the movie and all its connotations so I wanted to give a little bit of a – how would you say – unexpected twist to a record like this, which is pretty easy on the ears and pretty linear. I needed to balance that out with a provocative title.”
Artists Direct | 2010
"All I'm doing on the Mondo Cane record is giving my take on already great, written, orchestrated, well-thought out musical plans. I take the blueprints and maybe I adjust something. Perhaps, I put this wall over here or raise this roof over there. Maybe, I'll put a door on the east side instead of the west side. One of the great things about music is anyone can have a million interpretations. I took some liberties here with this record, but I also tried to really be respectful. It's hard though, man. It's hard."
Music Feeds | 2012
“It should be like an amicable relationship. I’m not here to destroy, you know, Jerry Goldsmith or anybody’s music that I cover, any of the Morricone stuff whatsoever, I really revere that stuff and really, really love it.”
Alarm Magazine | 2010
“Hey, it’s a live concert, and I hate live-concert recordings. I just can’t listen to them; I can’t deal with it. It took me a long time to correct all the mistakes and redo the arrangements, maybe the way I really wanted them and heard them in my head from the beginning but didn’t have time to execute for the concerts.”
Spin | 2012
"I think that all great art stays great forever. I still think that the paintings you might see in a museum from decades ago are just as beautiful today. That is why I also don’t see the foreign language being a barrier in this music. No matter what the words say, or when they were written, and who originally sang them, these songs still translate wonderfully. Beyond the social or political ramifications of some music that defines an event or period of time, it seems to me that great musician stand the test of time."
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.
The truest beauty of Mondo Cane is proven by the same dynamic appeal as bands like Rammstein and Aterciopelados: you do not have to be fluent in traditional Italian speech or opera to fully experience this music. Mondo Cane is a time machine, guided by Mike Patton, a backing band, and a 40-piece orchestra into contemporary Italian pop music, with the usual avant garde flare that makes Patton what he has been and always will be.
Mondo Cane, given the effort and energy put into it, seems to be a project much closer to Mike Patton’s heart than might be initially imagined, and serves as yet more proof that his talent and his breadth are perhaps indeed ‘senza fine’.