(Razor & Tie)
[Rating: 3 stars]
After enduring personal and professional hardships (finding a new label, breaking up with her boyfriend, and the loss of her backing band) , singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins resurfaces with Mondo Amore, the follow-up to her 2007 critically-acclaimed debut, Neptune City. These challenges seem to have provided ample material for Atkins’ sophomore effort, which runs rampant with tales of romantic triumphs and tragedies. No longer harnessed by the boundaries of a major label, Atkins has proudly stated this is the album she has always wanted to make.
This new collection begins with the dark, brooding “Vultures,” which sets the stage for the complex and multi-layered assemblage of musical narratives presented here. “Careful where you walk / Remain in the light / Watch where death resides / Finds you from all sides,” Atkins warns as she seductively draws the listener inside her mysterious and ominous musical labyrinth. Then without warning, she switches gears and breaks into the highly spirited “Cry Cry Cry,” which is surprisingly upbeat despite its deceptive title. This is the first sign of the roller coaster ride the album holds in store, as this musical tug of war continues throughout its duration.
Slowing things down again is “Hotel Plaster.” This ethereal ballad’s true asset is its haunting melody, which results in an effective emotional interplay between the music and lyrics. “Think of me in a prison of hotel plaster / Far from the shelter of your side / Take me back to the rocking horse / Pray for answers / Hold on to our love,” Atkins implores. She then rips into rocker ‘You Come To Me” with raw abandon, and this could easily be considered her most rousing vocal performance to date.
The sexy, sultriness of the mid-tempo “You Were The Devil” sounds like it could be used to score a Quentin Tarantino movie, with such emotive laments as “Lay down your love he commanded / And with those words I sealed the fate that was mine,” and “I gave my breath so I could suffocate your fire / Still it’s the hate in your words I came to admire.” All of this comes to a close with the nearly six-minute cinematic “The Tower,” which provides a fitting conclusion to this moody and worthy addition to Atkins’ evolving body of work as she sings the final words, “Wish I could’ve told you goodbye.”
Mondo Amore demonstrates growth in this captivating artists’ songwriting, shifting back and forth between two distinct musical personalities. One is dark and morose, while the other is strong and aggressive. At times, Amore sounds like a modern Goth-rock romantic tragedy, full of heartbreak and despair, but the pain Atkins expresses in her lyrics ultimately results in the album’s most pleasurable moments.