Beginning to review an album by saying the most atypical seen on these pages would be daring, since a lot of strange stuff ended on Aristocrazia. Nevertheless, we can say with a certain degree of confidence that Corpse Flower, Mike Patton‘s latest effort, fits perfectly in this category. After Faith No More, after the Italian bel canto and hardcore punk, the histrionic Californian artist joined forces with Jean-Claude Vannier, a guy who knows one thing or two about composition and arrangement: from being a pillar in the French 70s pop scene to his most avant-garde production, he’s best known for his contributions to the records of another troubled soul, Serge Gainsbourg.
The seed from which Corpse Flower will eventually bloom is aptly planted during a tribute concert to the French songwriter, which saw performances by both Patton and Vannier, in 2011. From this meeting, a long distance collaboration originated, made of stubs and ideas bouncing across the Atlantic Ocean – the musicians are listed as the “Los Angeles” and “Paris” teams – and reaching its final form in a captivating and varied piece of work. After all, just some toe-dipping into Vannier‘s production would suffice to explain why he’s so in sync with Patton: the Parisian’s avant-garde vain welcomes the colleague’s whims with open arms, both in terms of lyrics and singing style.
Starting with the excellent “Ballade C.3.3”, with lyrics taken from Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad Of Reading Gaol, Corpse Flower hops between songs that seem made for some soundtrack (another field of expertise for Vannier) and other ones which show the most bizarre tendencies of the two personalities, both lyrically and instrumentally. “Chansons D’Amour” does justice to its romantic title with a nostalgic atmosphere, “Insolubles” reminds of some vintage dramatic scenes along the French boulevards; those who like classic Patton-style songs will find great solace in “On Top Of The World”, something that wouldn’t be out of place in a Faith No More album, where the singer fuses a fascinating crooning with some good old irreverence («If I get on top of the world / I’ll take a shit right down on this earth»). The other side of the coin offers bolder and more daring pieces, like the dissonant “Cold Sun Warm Beer”, showcasing almost absurd elements will find their best display in “A Schoolgirl’s Day”: three and a half minutes of unsettling crescendo, meticulously describing a young girl’s day with increasing intensity and complexity as the day goes by, until an unexpected finale.
As it often happens, great works come without much fanfare: conceived by two different and similar artists at the same time and characterized by a great instrumental performance, Corpse Flower comes out almost quietly in this second half of 2019, and it has class all over it. We’re sure it will make its way through the infamous end-of-the-year charts, at least in the more open-minded ones.