Of all Mike Patton’s project, Tomahawk is the one I appreciate the least. Let’s be unprofessionally honest from the start: I can’t be impartial when it comes to judging the work of the genius from Eureka, CA because, yes, I am one of those pedantic nerds who can talk about him for hours at bus stops and grocery stores. Pranzo Oltranzista is in my opinion: “a postmodern monument to deconstructivism and a wordless essay on the very meaning of semiotics from a non-Kojevian perspective”. Or “it fucking rules”: you decide. And don’t get me started on the tragedy behind Fantomas or Mr Bungle’s sardonic stance on the morals of our times because I may end up comparing Patton’s vocal chromaticism to the continuous dichotomy between techne and episteme. Or “both bands fucking rule”: you’re an agent with free will, so you can decide for yourself.
But Tomahawk remains the weakest link. Notwithstanding the fact that we are talking about a supergroup; -– one that incorporates John Stanier (Helmet, Battles), Duane Denison (Jesus Lizard) and Trevor Dunn (Mr Bungle and Secret Chiefs 3) – one can’t help but see this band as a hybrid between the pop aesthetics of Faith No More and the liquid arrangements of say, Fantomas. If the first album, 2001’s self-titled opus, was for some a welcome break from Patton’s more experimental deviations, its songs marked a return to the rock-oriented dynamics of the late Faith No More…minus the genius. Let’s be honest: the albums that followed (2003’s Mit Gas and 2007’s Anonymous) will not be remembered for being terribly forward-thinking or laden with explosive ideas. It hurts to say that Oddfellows makes no exception.
If you’ve had a chance to listen to “Stone Letter” (the single introducing the album), you may have noticed its not-too-vague assonance with a song like “Digging The Grave”, which was written in 1994. You may even end up thinking that this is not a good sign.
Don’t get me wrong: Oddfellows has got its great moments (pick a track at random and you’ll know what I mean), but these fail to be consistent and draw a coherent picture of what this album is really aiming at. There are hooks, like the epic “Waratorium”, resembling Audioslave on drunken slow motion, or the folksy feel of “I Can Almost See Them,” which is partly reminiscent of the unfortunate Anonymous and it’s almost ethnological renditions of Native American sounds and songs.
If it’s metal (and in parts, it undeniably still is), it’s that nervous strain which appears to be typical of supergroups. The already mentioned Audioslave, for instance, or Audrey Horne, A Perfect Circle and Velvet Revolver: they all end up edulcorating the sound of the original bands. Super groups are implicitly a compromise and nothing tremendously exciting ever comes out of half measures [Audrey Horne fucking rules!! --- Steel Druhm].
Still, there is Patton murmuring his way to your heart (“Baby Let’s Play ____”) in ways that made his Mondo Cane experience great, and albums like Peeping Tom an experiment in sexual harassment via your speakers. And there is an almost anthemic urge in “South Paw”, which is countered by the jazzy and obscure ways of “Rise Up Dirty Waters” and the minimalistic approach in “I.O.U.”.
It is an album that lacks focus and direction and this is why it is so discretely outstanding. Who are we kidding: Oddfellows is, like all good things, elegantly imperfect and therefore utterly unpredictable. While we cannot say that we will remember it as a cornerstone in contemporary music (Patton’s recent interpretation of Luciano Berio’s music is!), we will surely mention Oddfellows at the end of the year. When we will have realized that, after all, there is nothing better than a bit of intelligent pop rock to remind us that, hey, pop rock is actually dead.