Once Dan "The Automator" Nakamura had finished writing music for a band of misfit, two-dimensional creations, his impulse was to leave his anime surroundings and indulge in the sultry, sexy and oft-hedonistic pleasures of his side project, Lovage.
The brainchild of the Handsome Boy Modeling School founder, Lovage features the vocal exploits of former Faith No More/now Mr. Bungle, Fantomas and Tomahawk frontman Mike Patton, as well the silky, soul-dripped lyrical musings of Elysian Fields collaborator Jennifer Charles.
Their pairing is a lush and seamless blend of languid innuendo, cathartic moans and staccato rhythms. On the standout track "Pit Stop (Take Me Home)," Charles and Patton describe an interstate love scene as Nakamura leaves a haunting trail of whispering pianos and thinly veiled church bells. Think Massive Attack spliced with a hint of Burt Bacharach and Portishead.
The theme of ... Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By is, naturally, lovemaking.
A response to the impotence of bands such as the nookie-declarative Limp Bizkit and uber-sensitive Incubus, and the downright frightful ballads of Iglesias the Younger, Lovage attempts to create a record that rekindles the warm glow of Barry White circa Walrus of Love, all the while tipping its cap to the cut-and-paste sampling mentality of The Avalanches.
The result, at times, is suave. As Patton and Charles sift through the droning back-beat of "Book of the Month," their erotic wordplay takes on new life. Each passing exchange achieves a certain rudimentary element of passion without sounding like something off a 2LiveCrew 7-inch. Consider the following verse:
"You and me are a disease/ And the germs are spreading/ Use me like Listerine/ Keepin' your breath fresher/ Feel the stroke of your paint brush on my blank sheet of paper."
While the lyrics leave little to the imagination, the soft, somewhat warm delivery inspires an image that falls more in line with the dancing flame of a candle, as opposed to the insipid neon buzz of a New Jersey motel room.
Other times, the very same result is muddled and questionable. "Anger Management" never really goes anywhere, as Patton plays a character who seems to draw equal parts from Edgar Allan Poe and the Bee Gees' Barry Gibb. "Troubling" is the word that best describes it.
While Charles and Patton are the main players on this side stage of love, betrayal and fornication, Nakamura's connections also landed cameos by Afrika Bambaataa, on the hysterical "Herbs, Good Hygiene and Socks," and Damon Albarn, on the spoken-word track "Lovage (Love That Lovage Baby)." On the latter, Albarn tosses aside his singsong delivery to provide a Masterpiece Theater-type narration as Nakamura fills the rest of the track with a sweeping string section, gentle brass and soothing piano.
Loosely based on the work of Serge Gainsbourg, the French purveyor of equal parts porno and avant-garde cabaret pop, Lovage would make its departed muse proud. On their cover of Berlin's "Sex (I'm A)," Charles opens the track with suggestive giggling and heavy breathing it's a step away from being garish and throwaway. But the trio of Nakamura, Patton and Charles soon rebound to construct a spellbinding narrative, climaxing with Patton chanting "I'm a man" to the call-and-answer responses of Charles, which include the contrasting progression "I'm a virgin/ I'm slut/ I'm your mother."
As an EP, the premise of Lovage would flourish. The blending of Nakamura's sonic know-how with the pairing of Patton and Charles proves to be a fascinating triumvirate for about five songs. As a long-player, however, Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By leaves much to be desired. Charles' delivery is sometimes wasted when she moans like a '70s porn queen, while Patton shows glimpses of his vocal range but often retreats to an almost G.G. Allin school of thought and action. As a study in contrasts, Lovage delivers. As an album for lovers, however, while it may play for about 59 minutes, it goes soft after about 25.