Mike Patton and Jean-Claude Vannier – Corpse Flower (2019)

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It seems that food is always on my mind. Well, not always, but a lot…

A colleague and I were sharing some offbeat things that we have for breakfast. I told him that sometimes I have mashed avocado and crunchy peanut paste together on toast. He looked at me like I was a loony. But, he admitted that he has raisin toast, butter and Vegemite on his.

We agreed to try each others’ taste sensations and meet on Monday to deliver our verdicts.

To our mutual surprise, putting two odd sounding things together can work brilliantly, if you have the courage to try it.

If Mike Patton sounds like a familiar name, he is in a little band called Faith No More. He is an extremely talented mammal, spending time as a musician, songwriter, composer, actor and producer. With such an abundantly creative background, one wonders what he could do if given creative licence. Well, Wonder No More.

“Corpse Flower” is a fertile collaboration with Jean-Claude Vannier who is a French musician, painter, journalist, composer and arranger. It is a collection of pop songs with a jarring classical twist.

The album consists of 12 tracks , with a duration of 43 minutes.

“Ballade C.3.3.” and its title caught my attention, as did it’s swanky opening, priming me for a love song. Yep, every love song should open with “Each man kills the things he loves”. It’s smooth as silk, with a blues inspired roughness, along with liberal sprinklings of silliness. Welcome to “Corpse Flower” – from the outset, it is proudly different in the way that it goes about things. The track sounds poetic and I read that it is an Oscar Wilde poem. Patton’s screams and groans add to the miasma created by confronting lyrics, set against an innocuous backdrop.

“Camion” opens with dischordant guitars and I got a sense that it was cinema inspired. It’s decidedly offbeat, with many changes of direction – it’s odd, then simple, then odd, then something else. There are orchestral elements and many sounds surface briefly to prick your ears. I found myself grooving along, only to be shocked back into the present by a change in tempo and sound.

“Chansons D’Amour” begins with sweet piano and strings and it sounds old school French in influence. Odd and awkward lyrics are partnered by beautiful melody. It sounds like a mad phone conversation.

“Cold Sun, Warm Beer”, like it’s title suggests, is about oddly flipped expectations and images. It  begins with twanging guitars and it includes child-like vocals in the background. It also has an odd structure that should have you tuning out – but again, like the title, it is the reverse – it sucks you in to hear what happens next. A beautifully written line was “let me see your tits”.

“Browning” shoots forth with a bass and drum groove and Patton asserts that he “simply does what the trigger says”. This track is a satirical look at gun culture that is challenging and engaging at the same time. It speaks of commercialism and passing the buck. It’s a southern style lounge song with a conscience. Sneaky.

“Hungry Ghost” is haunting in its opening, with soulful bells pealing forth. A tinkling harpsichord sound adds to the sense of theatre and a woman’s opera voice rings out against a slightly dysfunctional orchestra. Complex lyrics are used, delivered with a deeper vocal style, then, back to the opera! It also includes carnival sounding elements and the tempo changes often. It’s a bit of a hard listen. The opera closes out the track, along with background screams and wails. My brain hurts.

“Corpse Flower” blossoms with a tango style sound, including punctuated strings and whispered vocals. It has another swanky groove that has it’s counterpoints staccato strings and shifting percussion styles – it’s a clever juxtaposition of sound. The lyrics are quirky, using odd pairings and silly associations. Again, who can’t like a track that includes lyrics such as “soft petals, rotten flesh, sweet sick perfume, come and get it”. It’s a track that The Addams Family would use for a waltz.

“Insolubles” begins with what sounds like xylophones and off-sounding instruments. The lyrics continue to be enigmatic, including “I remember umbrella rides in the streets of history” and “the most beautiful colanders and elongated coffees”.

“On Top of the World” opens with a solid groove and whistling, but the whistling is not perfect. Which is to be expected. Keyboards support the sound and all is calm. Then, guitar fuzz rips open the calm, because being on top of the world is not to feel good about things, but to “take a shit right down on this Earth” and to “take a piss down into your face”. It’s an infectious arrangement, infected by the odd and off putting lyrics. It works – a maniacal symmetry.

“Yard Bull” has a country music feel that begins as a cool cruiser. This opening is musical and together, but it had me waiting for the decay… which snuck in like slow decomposition. The track is symphonic in some parts and it makes political comment. You probably want another lyrical gem by now. How about “old orange peel is like pages in a book”.

“A School Girl’s Diary” is a cunning name for a song that is someone reading from a school girl’s diary. At 7:00 she gets out of bed, makes breakfast, goes to school, comes home, does her homework, has dinner with her parents etc. But the ending kicks you in the nuts.

“Pink and Bleue” has a gorgeous orchestral opening. The lyrics also open beautifully with “when I dink too much, I shit my pants”. Beauty and brutality, walking hand in hand. It’s a sweet sound with a serious message.

The whole album is weird. Blissfully, abundantly bizarre. It’s a grating fusion of musical elements and arrangement, partnered with sublime lyrical wit and whimsy. It’s like Salvador Dali made an album about an unsettling adventure, or if a group of self-absorbed twats put together a Vaudville show – you wouldn’t be sure if they were trying to be desperately creative – or having a sneaky go at you and all you believe.

Patton’s vocals are diverse and strong, crooning one moment and groaning with sinister or sexual intent the next. Partnered with the arrangement of the album, the slightly wrong sounding elements, followed by beautiful sounds, it’s a masterful work.

You just need to have the courage to try it.

Peanut butter and avocado anyone?

9/10

Greg Noble.

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