For a guy who’s spent much of his career making some seriously weird, challenging, and abrasive music, Mike Patton sure is a romantic. For every hardcore punk and experimental avant-grade album Patton has been influenced by, his record collection probably contains just as many albums of beautiful balladry and intimate sex jams. Patton is also no stranger to concept albums, and neither is Dan The Automator, legendary hip-hip producer who has worked with the likes of Gorillaz, Kool Keith, and Del the Funky Homosapien. Under the pseudonym Nathanial Merriweather, Dan the Automator teamed up with Patton and Elysian Fields singer Jennifer Charles to form the band Lovage, and in 2001 they released their only record, a sexified trip-hop concept album entitled Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By.
This album maintains a consistently low-key vibe, with suggestive lyrics and slow, sensual beats that contain loads of deftly employed samples of romantic music, with head-bobbing grooves from front to back. Employing several skits, cheeky song topics, and cartoonish vocal inflections, this is by far one of the most overtly comedic musical projects Mike Patton has ever lent his unique voice to. His singing is mostly reserved to passionate crooning, sly falsetto, and gravelly bass, and Charles’ performances are a perfectly sultry and seductive compliment to the album’s laid-back sound. The beats, as real heads would expect, are skillfully crafted, showcasing Dan the Automator’s talent for flipping obscure samples into something totally original, living up to the album’s title in a big way. Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By is a record that attempts (and ultimately succeeds) to function on multiple levels, cartwheeling on a tightrope between ironic comedy and sincere sensuality.
Dan The Automator created the Nathaniel Merriweather persona for the hip-hop project Handsome Boy Modeling School, so it’s only fitting that this album’s intro track, Ladies Love Chest Rockwell, contains a cameo from the group’s other member, none other than Chest Rockwell himself (aka Dan’s fellow legendary hip-hop beatsmith Prince Paul of Gravediggaz and De La Soul fame). Since Prince Paul (for better or worse) did much to pioneer the rap album comedy skit, sticking him right at the beginning of this very satirical project feels appropriate, and he introduces the album’s themes with all the greasy pseudo-seductiveness you’d expect if you’re familiar with the character (which, if you’re around my age, you might only be if you caught his extremely creepy feature on the track Twin Hype Back from the first Run The Jewels album). The first proper song is Pit Stop (Take Me Home), which features some chiming bells and a looped piano sample, bolstered by some weighty drums. Charles’ siren-like vocals are a soothing start to the track, and she harmonizes beautifully with Patton on the chorus. Patton takes the second verse, rapping comically suggestive lyrics in a throaty tone:
“Lickin’ your greasy spoon/
Jukebox playin’ my tune/
Makin’ out in your room/
Blowin’ up your balloon/
Playin’ you like a bassoon/
But if I only knew/
Where we were drivin’ to/
I wouldn’t have let you fill my tank”
Like many songs on this album, it’s not very complex, but has a strong vibe and beautiful, catchy melodies that are enhanced by their repetition. Charles sings from the POV of a stranded motorist who falls for Patton, a truck driver, and their chemistry is as palpable as you’d want from an album with such a concept. As a proper starting point for the record, it’s the kind of teaser a concept of this caliber deserves, executed with irresistible charisma.
Next is the tragic breakup song Anger Management, where Patton’s vocals on the opening verse are low and breathy, overcome with pained yearning as he drifts in and out of spoken word atop the slow, dusty groove and theatrical piano sample. Charles is nowhere to be found on this track, but Patton provides a brilliant contrast in the chorus with layers of overdubbed falsetto that are chillingly gorgeous, and at the end he dramatically laments:
“Why must God punish me this way?”
Like the title suggests, this song is as sexy and satirical as it is depressing, and Patton goes all-in on the dramatic poetry recitation in the third verse before passionately bellowing (like Adele would a decade later):
“And can’t you see?/
We could have had it all!”
It’s easy to see how this song has personal significance for Patton, who became separated from his wife of eight years around the time this album was made, and though his wit is as strong as ever in both writing and performance, it stings a bit if you’ve bothered to learn as much about his life as I have. Despite that, this track is wonderfully melodramatic and instantly catchy, and Patton shows amazing versatility, a trait that tends to show up in all my favorite music he’s had a hand in.
Next is a skit track, Everyone Has A Summer, which features no original vocals but contains various dialogue samples relating to sex and romance, stitched together in a collage much the way they would be on an MF DOOM record. Notably, it interpolates several famous lines from the classic film Airplane!, and appropriately, the quote, “That is the strangest music to make love to” from Terms of Endearment. Though it runs about the average length of one of this album’s tracks, there’s obviously a bit less to discuss, although the intermittent harmonica samples are spliced really nicely over the Spanish guitar loops, and the record scratches (provided by Kid Koala) are executed as skillfully as that of any veteran DJ.
Next is To Catch A Thief, whose opening sample promises uptempo funk, but immediately transforms into a more minor-key affair. Pretty much the whole track is built around an eerie, dreamlike harpsichord lick that recalls the dark side of 60’s psychedelia, though some sections prominently feature a repeated sample of a single, violently played piano chord that rings out dramatically before being looped again and again. With Patton MIA, this track belongs to Jennifer Charles, and her performance is both enchanting and mysterious, with all the restrained passion of one of the more romantic Portishead songs. Jittery samples of chopped up bass, piano, and flute dance in the background during her verses, and her quiet, smokey crooning actually reminds me quite a bit of Billie Eilish, who incidentally, was not yet born when this album was released. The lyrics to the song have nothing to do with the Hitchcock film for which it’s named, but they are quite funny, seemingly about falling in love with a notorious cat burglar, with lyrics about Charles leaving her window open at night for the prowler to get in. “I’d hide you from the cops,” she purrs with tongue firmly in cheek, and with everything this track has going for it, what thief could resist?
Lies and Alibis follows, an instrumental track with a prominent dub reggae vibe, especially in the sound of the drums, and it strongly reminds me of one of my favorite albums of all time, Augustus Pablo’s groundbreaking masterpiece East of the River Nile (though the actual sample comes from a track by jazz flautist Jeremy Steig). Slinky fretless bass and a hypnotic flute riff are at the forefront of this very relaxed beat, and the mellow tone combined with the repeated “lies and alibis” vocal sample are just enough to tie this track nicely into the concept of the record.
After a brief comedy skit in Herbs, Good Hygiene & Socks, we finally get more sung vocals on Book of the Month, where Patton and Charles exhibit sinful chemistry, with Charles crooning innocently atop Patton’s devilish, creaky bass. With a classic funk drumbeat and unobtrusive jazz samples in the background, the vocals sit at the forefront on this track, and they are hair-raising. I don’t want to be blunt, but to be perfectly honest, this track is hot, it’s REALLY hot, especially when the two start trading off lines:
“You are the bitter/
I am the sweet/
You are the griddle/
I am the meat/
You are the trick/
I am the treat/
You are the circus/
I am the freak”
There’s even a bridge that features Patton and Charles moaning in increasing ecstasy, eventually climaxing, which is not usually something I enjoy in a musical context but it somehow ends up working. During this section we get what sounds like some intense, growling tuba samples, which fit snugly into the theme, and adds an extra pinch of darkness into this track’s unabashed erotica. If Patton and Charles didn’t, you know, do it, at some point during the making of this album, I’d be pretty surprised, because the sparks between them during their vocal passages could start a house fire.
Wind sound effects and a chilly toy piano riff open the next track, Lifeboat, another song titled after a Hitchcock film. The beat grows more layered as the drums come in, with chopped up organ riffs and a round, prominent bassline. Patton and Charles once again trade off during the verses, which tell the story of a man and woman who find love with each other as they drift ashore on a lifeboat following a disaster at sea which claimed the lives of both their lovers. Ever since I first heard this album I’ve enjoyed it for its sweet melodies and relaxing production, but reviewing each track individually has given me a real appreciation for how many interesting lyrical concepts many of these songs have. I feel like there’s not much more to say about this one, which is not to say it’s a weak track; like many of these songs, its simplicity is one of its strengths.
Next is Strangers on a Train, which features one of my favorite beats on the album; it’s some serious 90’s east coast mafioso rap shit, equal parts grimy and classy, with some brilliant psychedelic manipulations on the vocal sample. Seriously, Biggie Smalls could spit a verse over this and you wouldn’t think anything of it. This is another track with no Patton vocals, but Charles gives her most dramatic performance and she’s absolutely phenomenal. Hitchcock be damned, this is another blatant seduction song, with Charles trying to goad the titular stranger into killing something other than one of her enemies:
“I overheard you say/
‘Not stirred, but shaken’/
And I could really throw one back/
Such thirst doesn’t always permit for tact/
So, if you would, sir, pardon me/
A stiff one is my specialty”
This song, like many in the latter half of this record, is incredibly forthright in its filthiness, with Charles at her sauciest as she sings passionately about anonymous sex. Even though Patton’s not on this track, it’s a total standout and definitely one of my absolute favorites.
Another skit follows, Lovage (Love That Lovage, Baby), with Charles gently interpolating Donna Summer’s Love To Love You, Baby as we get a monologue from none other than Dan the Automator collaborator and Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, hilariously credited as Sir Damien Thorne VII of the Cockfoster’s Clan. This leads into a cover of Berlin’s famously racy single Sex (I’m A), known for being banned by many radio stations for its overtly sexual lyrics, as well as its inclusion in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s 1984 polka medley Polkas On 45. This is the longest track on the album, and both Patton and Charles ham it up deliciously, especially during the choruses when Patton repeatedly growls “I’m a man!” in response to Charles’ theatrically horny calls. The beat is as groovy and sensual as anything else on the album, with some fantastic drum programming towards the end, and even contains a sample from legendary krautrock band Can. There’s also a brief interlude in the middle which features a sample from an audio book by Dutch author and former sex worker Xaveria Hollander, which is an unexpected and interesting surprise that helps put a unique spin on this classic track. Like the best covers, this version keeps the spirit of the original, and is simultaneously totally transformative, with excellent performances from both Patton and Charles. There’s more sexual vocalizations and, once again, it really works in this context, helping to make this (to the surprise of no one) one of the album’s filthiest (and best) songs.
Next is another instrumental track, Koala’s Lament, which features more beautiful Spanish guitar samples, compressed drums, subtle jazz horns, gorgeous strings, and more of Kid Koala’s turntablism. I don’t like it quite as much as Lies and Alibis, but it’s a completely different vibe and still works incredibly well. This is followed by a short, goofy skit called Tea Time With Maseo, featuring who else but Maseo from De La Soul talking about random bullshit over a looped funk sample. It’s not a substantive track, but it’s a funny palate cleanser.
The penultimate track is Stroker Ace, which lyrically features a large number of cat-related double entendres (use your imagination), and is musically built around a swanky, soulful horn sample that I swear I’ve heard before. This is probably one of the cornier songs, but you could be forgiven for not even noticing given that it’s as sly and stylish as anything else on the record. Charles handles the verses on this one, with Patton’s baritone bolstering the chorus:
“Stroke that shiny coat/
Stroking is the antidote”
Despite ostensibly being about a horny cat, it doesn’t quite stand out as much as other tracks, and while I wouldn’t call it bad, I don’t really think it lives up to this album’s best moments.
The final track is the chilling Archie & Veronica, which is nowhere near as innocent as it sounds. Mike Patton is, of course, no stranger to bizarre and disturbing song topics, but this one strikes me as by far the album’s least romantic. Yeah, this song is 100% about fucking a dead body. Patton growls atop the the watery guitar chords and chimes:
“Sitting on a cold slab/
Feeling my warm stab”
Charles, who plays the cadaver, whispers meekly from the grave about Patton being “jealous of the flies and worms” inside her, taunting him with her ghostly rejection. As the album’s darkest song, it is a jarring ending, but couldn’t really have fit anywhere else on the tracklist, and its creepy vibe and haunting choral samples make it perfect for your Halloween playlist. With a few tweaks, this could easily be a Tomahawk song, that’s how grizzly it feels, and it’s fantastically effective, even if it may not exactly be the best song to make love to your old lady by. In the final minute, the beat abruptly switches up into a reprise of Pit Stop, before fading out, bringing this album to a surprisingly gruesome conclusion.
It’s a real shame that Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By was Lovage’s only album, because it’s a brilliantly crafted, hilariously written, and wholly unique experience. Everyone’s talents are showcased so well, and nobody ends up overshadowed, making Lovage yet another powerhouse supergroup rather than a Mike Patton side project. This has quickly become one of my favorite albums I’ve discovered while writing this series, and the more times I listen to it, the more its melodies, production, and sense of humor grow on me. One of the things I love the most is that it sounds like it was as fun to make as it is to listen to, and it’s no surprise to me that Patton would go on to explore trip-hop even further in the future. His clear reverence for every genre he’s tackled in his lengthy career keeps his work from feeling like pastiche, and to my ears, his enthusiasm is infectious.
I give Nathanial Merriweather Presents… Lovage: Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By a very very sexy 8.5/10
Best Tracks: Anger Management, Book of the Month, Strangers on a Train, Sex (I’m A)