Multi-genre singer Mike Patton and renowned French composer Jean Claude Vannier teamed up for their latest record Corpse Flower. The eclectic artists met at a Serge Gainsbourg tribute at the Hollywood Bowl in 2011, a night full of colorful performances commemorating the late singer. With Vannier’s classical sensibilities and Patton’s humorous lyrics and sincere voice, this is a record where strange has no boundaries. Even if some songs lack concrete direction, the overall record is still a powerhouse in terms of its versatility in lyricism, production and structure.
A lot of the record features Patton’s sultry, deep voice over a range of instrumentals varying in romantic, voodoo and western styles. “Hungry Ghost” sets up this Tim Burton sound world where Patton almost sounds like a voice-over narrator. Then, in “Corpse Flower” Vannier creates a nice intro with a melange of strings. A deeply nested Patton over-articulates words, “Filet mignon, sweetbreads, lardon.” It’s weird, but it’s unique and remains composed. Patton’s humor also finds its way into “A Schoolgirl’s Day” where he basically narrates a typical school girl’s day, “11:30 she goes home for lunch.”
Some songs on the record explore a French funk sound through soft electric pianos and groovy percussion. “Ballad C” and “On Top of The World” both are similar in this instrumental style. Yet, as soon as Patton establishes his voice, the song ends up shifting all elements. Sometimes it gets hard to keep up with, especially when you go from sultry guitars to Patton screaming “I’ll take a piss in your flames!”
Then, the record dives deeper into its eccentric self with the song “Cold Sun Warm Beer.” Perhaps the craziest track in the record, the song sounds as if taken off a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa Loompa soundtrack. Detuned, scratchy guitars turn into a jungle-like beat, and high pitched vocals enter the void.
What’s nice is that both artists leave room for the other to fully deliver their sound. Patton may have an outlet through his lyrics, however, Vannier has three songs where the romantic chords strike and the production becomes elevated. “Chansons D’Amour” has a beautiful piano, melodic and drained in reverb. It’s sensual, and the additive elements of guitar and strings are cinematic. “Insolubles” and “Pink and Bleue” are also theatrical in the dramatic progressions and smooth piano, strings and guitars. Yet, it isn’t until Patton steps in and utters “When I drink too much I shit my pants” that the record turns more fun than straight-faced.
It may be hard to think of a certain situation in which you would listen to the album fully. However, Corpse Flower has a theatrical balance that only musicians of this caliber can deliver. The styles vary and, yes, the record is strange, but it’s extremely original.