Another Shade of Patton
There comes a point sometimes where you are left no choice but to respect artists and their art. Mike Patton of Faith No More fame, despite a prodigious library of side projects and collaborations under his belt already, meets the listener at this point with an even more ambitious project than usual. Hence Laborintus II, an opera originally Italian composer Luciano Berio based on a poem by the Italian poet Edoardo Sanguineti, which as expected, is not an easy listen. It’s a lofty project, as aside from the complicated arrangements at play here, his recitations intertwine strands from literary heavyweights like Dante (whose life the work is based on) and T.S. Eliot.
This being said, one would wager that listener engagement is going to be a difficult sell. Completely in Italian and in a genre (opera) which is best seen as well as heard, it is problematic to pinpoint what kind of audience Laborintus II would be intended for. This is not a problem per se, but it inevitably becomes a warning from Patton to his listener they should perhaps abandon all hope before entering. Regardless, much like any particularly complex work, one can’t help but admire the boldness, the energy, and the endeavor of it all.
Patton, fluent in the language, leads the proceedings, and he is in good voice here—or perhaps more appropriately: good voices. His beginning intonations of the Italian verses spook, while later he layers chants menacingly, and later still screams blisteringly before returning to an almost off-mic whisper that sounds like it could have been recorded in the hallway of the studio. Patton has made a point of showing off his vocal range throughout his career, but this performance is a nice feather in his cap. He is accompanied from the outset by a chorus of female vocals which give a serene reprieve from the overall madness of the suites, and they blend particularly well with the subtle string arrangements.
Speaking of the accompaniment, there are some moments of near-Harry Partch avant-garde leanings, and at other times the music veers off into the type of mid-century Italian cinema swells, blares and booms that give the musical landscape some real tension. There is a very percussive feel to the record, although the percussion proper doesn’t extend much beyond a rake of the glockenspiel or simple cymbal pattern. Half-way through “Part Two,” the ensemble invites some electronic bleeps and bloops to the proceedings, which do little more than distract the overall tone and the work as a whole.
Needless to say, in pursuit of his vision for re-creating something like Laborintus II, Patton clearly isn’t afraid to leave not only touches of his past works out of the piece, but also himself. This album provides a challenge for him as an artist, but also a challenge for his audience, many of whom have followed each twist and turn his direction has taken, and as a by product might invite a new, perhaps even more academic audience to his already diverse canon of works.