On the face of it, it would be easy to dismiss Mayonnaise as a low-rent Gorillaz. Crispin Hunt is the voice here, instead of Blur’s Damon Albarn—Hunt used to be the frontman for the Longpigs, a mostly overlooked British group who arrived too late to the Britpop party before imploding in 2000. They never did accomplish anything in the United States. In place of Dan the Automator we have Howie B, the renowned Scottish producer whose career has managed to stay unerringly below the radar.
But despite the critic’s natural tendency to dismiss everything new based on passing resemblances to past acquaintances, I will refrain from making the obvious comparison. The Gorillaz were hardly the first act to make a go of the pop / electronic hybrid crossover supergroup action—they were just the first to make a massive international success of it. People have been making albums like this at least as far back as Public Image Ltd.—which is not to say that this sounds anything like PiL, just that these types of eclectic projects are borne from similar impulses.
Mayonnaise (howie B, Crispin Hunt & Will O'donovan)
US: 28 Sep 2004
UK: Available as import
Which is all a fancy way of saying that Mayonnaise is a devilishly tricky album on which to get a bead. I’ve listened to it more than a few times now, and I have to say it is a uniquely interesting experience. Now, does “interesting” translate into “good”? That is a question to which I do not have an answer.
The album’s main preoccupation would seem to be the concept of layered textures. Hunt’s voice has been purposefully placed apart from the main thrust of the arrangements. You have beats and synth lines and samples coming together to form strangely unnerving rhythmical patterns, and Hunt’s voice floating above the proceedings like a distant echo. The predominant emotion is melancholy regret, and the insistent disconnect between Hunt’s voice and the rhythmical framework certainly contributes to the feeling of incipient sadness.
This album seems custom-made for late night bull sessions, waiting for the sun to come up over a frigid winter landscape. It seems oddly ragged, like a half-finished thought left hanging in conversation. The first track, “Death Defying”, sets the tone for the rest of the album with a tuneful vocal set over a crisp electro breakbeat. It almost reminds me of something you might expect to hear imported from a Nordic country—its got the same kind of frigid intricacy that artists like Royksopp, Frost and Ralph Myerz have made their stock in trade. “To My Head” is the most obviously “Britpop” track here, sounding very much like a lost B-side from one of Ian Brown’s post-Stone Roses projects or even a particularly grungy remix of a Robbie Williams single.
The rest of the album, however, is nowhere near as demonstrative. “Blueberry” is a strange little ballad built atop a series of fuzzy synth echoes. “Time” is an extremely reserved instrumental that could have just as easily been released on an Information Society album circa 1988. The album picks up a bit with “Falling Star”, which places a muted hard house beat under Hunt’s lackadaisical romantic lullaby. As with many things on this album, the dichotomy creates an oddly disassociating effect, like listening to two different songs by two different artists. The contrast creates thematic friction.
I still can’t really say if Mayonnaise is a bad album or a good album. Sometimes that kind of ambivalence is an obvious cue that the album in question just isn’t very good: but regardless of my confusion, the album remains rather interesting, albeit in a uniquely depressing manner. I don’t know if I’d want to listen to it very often—because its more than a little bit glum—but it is an interesting experiment that yields odd dividends.