Last we heard from Nathaniel Merriweather, he and partner Chest Rockwell were handing out the syllabus for their Handsome Boy Modeling School back in '99. Since then, Merriweather's been reabsorbed into his alter ego, Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, who piloted Deltron 3030's spaceship into our galaxy back in the 2K and most recently brought Gorillaz into our midst with the help of Blur's Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett. Merriweather has now reemerged from the Automator's shell, but this time he's not schooling us, he's passing out aural Viagra.
Chest Rockwell (a.k.a. Prince Paul) shows his face only briefly on LOVAGE; production-wise, this is Merriweather's show. This time the multi-monikered mixing-board god hooked up with vocalists Mike Patton (Faith No More) and Jennifer Charles (Elysian Fields) to bring the lovin'; additional recruits include Afrika Bambaataa, Sir Damien Thorne VII of the Cockfoster's Clan (better known by his commoner's name, Damon Albarn), and Kid Koala. LOVAGE is the Automator's sultry paean to seduction, a low-key trip-hop affair smooth as your silk drawers, with a winking sense of humor as funny as the stains on said drawers.
Nakamura fuses his smooth beats on LOVAGE with sexy strings and dripping liquid bass lines to quilt the backdrop for Patton and Charles' libidinous vocals. The core of the record, Patton and Charles' duet pieces, are what keep the album from being a strictly producer-novelty affair. On "Anger Management," Patton strikes out with sinister whispering about his inner demons, muttering, "You're consumed with rage but I'm consumed with you" over minor-key synths, then culminating with a smooth-rising R&B chorale by both vocalists. "To Catch a Thief" is similarly dark-tinged, a tribute to the ladies' affection for bad boys. When the Automator's not painting with semi-morose down-tempo colors, his tracks come off like the inbred grandchildren of the French pop masters (Serge Gainsbourg and his ilk). Jennifer Charles is a perfectly cast chanteuse for the Yeh-Yeh gems "Book of the Month" and "Stroker Ace."
As in much of Nakamura's work, here he drops pant-pissing silly interludes between the songs proper; from the ridiculously funny Bambaataa vocals on "Herbs, Good Hygiene & Socks" ("Ummmm, that's a hard one to say . . . well, wash yo' ass every day, wash yo' whole body every day, and brush yo' breath at least two or three times a day wi'ch yo' teeth") to Maseo's appearance on "Tea Time With Maseo" ("And for me, I'm known for sweating pretty hard, and if I don't wear any socks with my shoes it's important for me to put some baby powder in my shoes -- make my shoes nice and fresh and clean, smellin' good").
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Since Nakamura co-founded the 75 Ark label in 1999, he's been afforded the opportunity to dish up eclectic platters like LOVAGE and Deltron 3030, albums whose eccentricities are brimming with tangential experimentation and creative ingenuity, but are short on mass appeal. Gorillaz may have had a chart-topper, but LOVAGE is really a connoisseur's affair. Word is that LOVAGE is a mid-step between Handsome Boy Modeling School records; this won't be the last you see of Nathaniel Merriweather.