Album: Mondo Amore
Producer: Phil Palazzolo
Label: Razor & Tie
Release: February 8, 2011
Rating: 8.4 RockRolls
It's been a little over 2 years since we've seen a studio release from New Jersey-native Nicole Atikins, but the singer-songwriter has been letting her latest release ferment on the back burner as she's broadened her musical horizons. Mondo Amore is a turn from Nicole's past releases like Neptune City or Bleeding Diamonds, but the album always feels genuine. Emotionally, the album feels like her single "The Way It Is," but stronger and deeper, if you can believe that.
A lot must have happened in the last couple of years; Nicole sports a matured voice, scathing lyrics, and forceful and even angry tone on the record, despite how sweet she sounds when singing. If the album has taught me anything, it's that I don't want to be in the shoes of whoever pissed her off. Musically the album is a lot more classic rock and southern rock than her normal psychedelic tone, but each track has its own unique sonic DNA that's difficult to map but always familiar and comfortable. The album opens with the very club-rock "Vultures," with Nicole's smoky voice smoothly filling the space between the strong rock and string orchestration and the chilling use of empty, quiet space.
In direct contrast to its opening, Nicole belts out the rhythm-and-blues-pop single "Cry Cry Cry" with its upbeat arrangement and Motown-backed chorus. If there was any doubt after the opening track that this album was based on breakup and heartache, it is erased after this song. Only Nicole's successful channeling of emotion through her voice can merge such sad lyrics into such an uptempo song honestly.
I hung your picture and leveled my dart
At the fold in the page that's the crease in your heart.
So I cry, cry, cry cause I don't understand
How I'm under the spell of a confidence man.
Oh, I try, try, try. It does me no good
And you won't hear my warning. It's a bad, dead dawn, and so I cry.
Along her more familiar offerings are "Hotel Plaster" where she croons alongside eerie background vocals and airy synth; the kaleidoscopic rocking of "This Is For Love;" and following closely, the head-swaying, psychedelic jam "You Come To Me." Fans of her earlier work will likely find their comfort zone in this trio, however the real heart and soul of this album are in the outliers of Nicole's safety zone.
A surprising addition on this album, "My Baby Don't Lie," was admittedly almost left off of the album for sounding too "country." And, yes, the song has a Western twang that just won't quit, but the song is less novelty than it is raw power and classic storytelling. A waiting fan-base will be glad that this tune didn't get the axe.
Among the outro selections of the album are a few recordings that are in the vein of "Vultures," namely "You Were The Devil," "Heavy Boots," and "The Tower." And ensuring the emotional rollercoaster is slowed down before the ride is over, Nicole gets sentimental with "War Is Hell," accompanied by Jim James of My Morning Jacket fame.
Mondo Amore is a musical powerhouse driving a poetic lyricism which is bound to make you listen to the album again and again. Nicole Atkins is determined with her sophomore release to ensure people know who she and the Black Sea are.