t’s the closing track that finally opens up the cracks in the rotten egg of Mike Patton’s new spiteful lounge / hip-hop project. Up until that point the album sails along on a sea of “wait and see” and “he can pull it back” goodwill—somewhere between average, good, and ho-hum.
It’s the Angel Dust / The Real Thing style metal-rap-pop of “Not Alone” that seals the LPs fate. On it, you can hear catchy angry Mike Patton doing schoolgirl vocals over nursery noises, giving way to a roaring guitar-lite chorus. It’s so obviously right sounding that the rest of these half baked pro-tools foetuses pale into relative insignificance. Now he might have totally moved on, and listeners (including me) might prefer to rock with Fantômas rather than “Epic” these days. But anything purposefully commercial that Patton touches has a lot to live up to. Which is why "Not Alone"'s open mouthed operatic wail mixed expertly with growls and underpinned by riffy rock pisses all over Peeping Tom’s bland version of a marriage of pop, esoteria, and fury.
The smattering of cooler-than-cool Anticon affiliates doesn’t exactly bolster the proceedings. A G-funk whine on the hopelessly thin skinned “How You Feelin?” is the only redeeming feature; a coconut in the turd. Doseone’s nasal rap and Patton’s silly-billy lyrics can’t stand up to more than a handful of serious run-throughs. Kid Koala sounds bound and gagged on “Celebrity Death Match,” where normally he manages to make the turntables sound both completely human and jaw-droppingly clever. There are seeds of promise in most pieces here, but for a project over half a decade in the making, the results sound cut-price and rushed.
Norah Jones, for example, is taken out of her world of safe sultriness on “Sucker” and made to talk dirty alongside Patton’s sleazy lounge persona. It’s a mildly entertaining prospect on paper, but falls flat in execution. Sure, the song contains a falling funk horn riff which sounds dark enough to spawn something really degenerate, but not when it’s used here. On the Bebel Gilberto collaboration, “Caipirinha,” he chooses the better route of slight subversion by harmonising over a sweet sunshine boss nova groove. Lifted up by a pumping electronic chorus, he’s using her for something she can handle and twisting it slightly to make it soiled. The underwear might look OK, but boy does it smell.
Much improved is Patton’s disgusted lyrical worldview, which moves from warmly misanthropic to seeing his venom seeping slowly into disgust territory. “Don’t Even Trip” comes out with the some of the album’s best lines: “You’re just a piece of shit but I can overlook it today, cos you’re still my friend.” Tapping into malicious electro on the Massive Attack production of “Kill the DJ,” he keeps a tastily grim and cheap vibe. While his vocals may be on the wrong side of crap (a poor double-tracked job), the music is a digital wreck of Mezzanine vibes. The seedy smooth mash-up “Five Seconds” combines the best aspects of live lounge with punked-out rants. Merging thrash with city-nightscapes and smoky horns, the track sees Clouddead producer Odd Nosdam managing to hold up the Anticon end from full-on shame.
Patton has been keen to make the distinction with this release between “pop on the radio” and the kind of pop created here. It still might be pop in terms of structure, emphasis, and melody but it’s sorely lacking in earworms; past a handful of listens this becomes quickly uninspired. I'm happy to admit ignorance in terms of what mastering can do to a record in hi-tech terms, but this record nonetheless sounds as flat as a watery fart. It sounds exactly like what it is: a bunch of tracks sent back and forth through the mail.