Release Date: February 8, 2011
Publisher: Razor & Tie
The problem with reviewing a Nicole Atkins album is that I feel wholly unqualified to do so. This is partially because her sub-genre is not typically my style of music. I see the names tossed around with her—PJ Harvey, Jeff Buckley, et. al.—and I’ve got no interest in any of that. But it’s also that while I’m listening to her music, I can’t help but feel there are things going on that I’m missing. Layers I haven’t discovered, both musically and lyrically.
And I think that’s the main attraction. Listening to Mondo Amore, for me, is like exploring an abandoned church; it’s calm and familiar, but just outside of your vision is something sinister waiting for the right moment to drag you to places you don’t particularly want to go.
But enough of that kind of critic-talk. Just listen.
That song—Vulture—is currently available for free on iTunes.
Mondo Amore follows Nicole’s debut album, Neptune City, by about four years. A label change is cited for the reason behind the delay. That change carried over to her new band and, therefore, new sound. It still contains the dreamy, Phil Spector / Roy Orbison influence that swirled around her voice in the debut, but now with a harder, blusier edge. The shift in tone doesn’t feel forced, like an artist afraid of being who she is in this age were singers are constantly pressured to “reinvent” themselves in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. Rather, it’s as natural a progression as was early ’60s music into late ’60s.
When Nicole belts out songs like “Cry Cry Cry” and “You Come to Me,” you realize she knew exactly what you wanted from her before you were ready to ask. After hearing them the first time, I suddenly had the urge to go back and listen to some mid-70s Heart.
And yet, it’s when Nicole settles down into the second half of the album, more reminiscent of Neptune City, that you appreciate not only her amazing voice, but her decisions as well. Yes, she can sing like nobody’s business, but she doesn’t feel the need to constantly remind you of that. She has control, and she knows when to unleash and when to tone it down. Compare that to someone like, say, Christina Aguilera, who insecurely feels the need to remind you of who she is in every verse of every song (including the National Anthem, apparently). Atkins is willing to sit back and let the song as a whole get the attention, and that makes her music much more pleasurable to hear.
The iTunes release of Mondo Amore features one bonus track: “Oh Canada!” This is not their National Anthem (although I’d like to hear that, too). Rather it’s a comparatively gentle pop tune that’s likely a better fit on Neptune City. If the bite of Mondo Amore put you off a bit, this bonus closer is a good way to get back to happier times.
But I like where Mondo Amore went, and I’m hoping we won’t have to wait another four years to go further down this road, scary churches and all.
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