July 11, 2013

Something Different: Nathaniel Merriweather Presents...Lovage - Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By (November 6, 2001)

While you two are still waiting for what I may or may not have to say about the new Jay-Z project, I'm going to take this time to tackle a subject that I have neglected for far too long on HHID: producer Dan "The Automator" Nakamura.  In the past, I've referred to him as one of my favorite producers, and that still holds true today, even though his well of work seemed to dry up considerably...until this year, apparently.  Nakamura has come out of hiding (relatively speaking: it's not as though he ever really left, he just took a break from hip hop) to release a minimum of three separate albums in 2013: his recent Pillowfight collaboration with Emily Wells, the upcoming Got A Girl album alongside actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and, of course, Deltron Event II, the long-awaited sequel to Deltron 3030, a sci-fi opera where Del Tha Funkee Homosapien battled evil corporations in the future.

So today is as good a day as any to talk about his album full of love songs and shit.

Back when Dan had his own record label, 75 Ark, he used it to unleash nearly every musical whim he could come up with.  Aside from Deltron 3030 and signing the emcee Encore (who vanished into thin air shortly afterward), he utilized his position to convince Faith No More's Mike Patton and Elysium Fields' Jennifer Charles that joining forces could be a good idea.  The trio called themselves Lovage (named after an herb that has fuck-all to do with actual love, which is kind of funny) and they recorded exactly one album together, Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By, a goofy one-off inspired by Serge Gainesbourg, Alfred Hitchcock, and genuine, if dark, love songs that Nakamura hadn't yet been able to create with his previous collaborators.

Stacking the deck in his favor, Nakamura also recruited the likes of Prince Paul, Afrika Bambaataa, Maseo, DJ Kid Koala, and his Gorillaz partner Damon Albarn (to set the stage, the first Gorillaz album, also known as "the one The Automator produced before he left the group", had been released approximately six months prior to this) to contribute with ridiculous asides or, in Koala's case, actual deejaying.  He once again adopted his Handsome Boy Modeling School persona, Nathaniel Merriweather, which means that this could be seen as a quasi-sequel, or at least a correspondence course, but leaves all of the actual vocals to the likes of Patton and Charles, two artists who had their own respective cult fanbases to appease while fucking around with The Automator, recording sub-trip hop and pseudo-pop music.

I kind of just want to get to the write-up already, don't you?

Since The Automator is playing Nathaniel Merriweather on Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By, it makes sense that his (former) Handsome Boy Modeling School running buddy Chest Rockwell (played by Prince Paul, making this the second Chest Rockwell reference in as many posts, which has to be a first of some sort: maybe this unintentional synergy will somehow force a third Handsome Boy album, although I highly doubt it), stops by to bless the project. This intro is amusing, but not required listening.

Nakamura's instrumental announces itself as an entirely different breed of animal, and yet it sounds comfortably familiar, so fans of The Automator's work with Kool Keith, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, or on that first Gorillaz album will feel right at the home that Jennifer Charles and Mike Patton request to be taken to. The formula for Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By is established right away: while both artists are crooning genuine love songs (or at least songs about loving the idea of love), Charles is the earnest one longing for companionship, while Patton sounds Patton-y, which is to say, kind of creepy without intending as such. The contrast weirdly works, and their collaboration is intensely enjoyable, if not perfect. A great way to start things off, though. (Personal note: my wife chose the instrumental to “Pit Stop (Take Me Home)” to play during our wedding, which may or may not have happened ten years ago this month. Happy anniversary, baby! I'm hoping that I came up with a much better gift than just a shout-out on a goofy blog.)

Patton handles “Anger Management” mostly by himself, and while The Automator's loop would suggest otherwise, the track is a bit darker than one would expect from a project that most people considered goofy from the very day it was announced. The instrumental facilitates both Patton's whisper-growl delivery and his off-key singing, which somehow adds a layer of authenticity to the proceedings: one walks away from this song believing that this is actually Mike Patton's life and not just a song, which doesn't really happen all that often. An interesting diversion, if not one of my favorites.

DJ Kid Koala steps up with a mostly instrumental track, scratching in dialogue samples (some swiped from the movie Airplane!, of all things) that sort-of keep with The Automator's overall theme. Although it runs for longer than it absolutely needs to, “Everyone Has A Summer” is a thrilling joyride through Koala's crates, especially during the final act, where the sound bites are dropped in favor of scratching over the entertaining-as-fuck beat. This was pleasing to the ears.

That instrumental is practically begging for a cameo from a rapper, but Charles shoulders the weight admirably all by herself, with her breathy flow clashing beautifully with the harder-than-expected beat. Her vocals don't sound so much a part of the song as they do a snippet of conversation laid over the music: sure, the lines may rhyme, and she sounds melodic and shit, but you can listen to her speak for quite a while (especially with expert backing from Nakamura) before realizing that she isn't really saying anything. Still, she sounded good, as does this song overall.

An instrumental interlude stretched out to a proper song length. The Automator's musical backing sounds like a slow drive in the country, perhaps through the mountains, while opening credits materialize in the air around you, and you don't even notice at first because, come on, you're driving, and in fact you would have missed them altogether had you not glanced in your rearview when you drove into that tunnel and noticed backwards lettering suspended in midair announcing “executive producers” or such-and-such. I'm kind of glad Dan didn't get anyone to sing on here, as this more than stands on its own.

“Brush your breath...with your teeth”? If you actually follow the advice provided by hip hop legend Afrika Bambaataa during this interlude, then you, my friend, are beyond help.

My wife factors into a few of my thoughts on Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By's tracks: “Book Of The Month” is actually her favorite song on the album, as she finds it sexy as hell. It's hard to disagree, and not just because I prefer a happy household: The Automator's musical backing is pretty dope, what with the horns and harder drums than you would normally find on songs like this, and the interplay between Charles and Patton definitely evokes an intimate-slash-freaky tone, especially with the lyrics, which, when transcribed, could sound either disgusting or romantic, as is the Mike Patton way. Unfortunately, Jennifer Charles is more of an afterthought on here, as though Dan suddenly realized that he had two singers in Lovage and not just the one, and inserted her accordingly, which makes no sense given her performing on the hook, but I'm not really complaining all that much when the end result is this good.

The Automator tries his hand at crafting what is essentially his version of a Portishead song, with sexy results. Jennifer's role is beefed up on “Lifeboat”, as she and Patton trade off verses in true collaborative fashion, with sexy results. Once again, her breathy vocals clash nicely with his sneering tone: it's not that Patton is rolling his eyes while singing or anything, but he sounds a lot less sincere than Charles, which, weirdly, only adds to the overall effect. I kind of ignored “Lifeboat” back in 2001, mainly because of the next track, but I like it today: it's grown on me. With sexy results.

This is actually my favorite song on Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By. Unsurprisingly, it's a Jennifer Charles solo affair, one that is set over the best Automator instrumental of the entire project. Charles's conversational flow runs throughout “Strangers On A Train”, which makes this hardly a song as much as it is a rhyming monologue at times, but it's a conversation you'll wish you were on the receiving end of. Thankfully, Patton sits this one out, as his growl would sound out of place. With her newly-acquired freedom, Charles's vocals, when she actually does sing, reach heights not yet attained on the project as a whole. This song is the tits. I also like the Patricia Highsmith book and Alfred Hitchcock film, neither of which are related to this track, but that may help explain why I may have been predisposed to enjoying this song. Also, Throw Momma From The Train.

Damon Albarn (from Blur and Gorillaz fame), playing the role of the Game Of Thrones-esque Sir Damien Thorne VII of the Cockfoster's Clan, resurrects his creepy Deltron 3030 voice for this interlude, which wasn't necessary, but at least keeps with the overall goofy theme of the album.  (Speaking of which, have you seen that recently-released guest list for the new Deltron project?  The Lonely Island?  David Cross?  David Chang?  Black Rob?  Joseph Gordon-Levitt?  Mike Patton?  That shit will either be a banger or a huge fucking mistake: I'm hoping for the former, obviously.)

12. SEX (I'M A)
Covering this Berlin song is actually a much more obvious choice than you may first believe: the lyrics play precisely into the overall theme, with Patton playing a sleazy lover and Charles barely concealing the freak inside. Besides, did you really want them to redo “The Metro” or “No More Words”? The Automator makes the decision to lend this cover a slooooooooow beat, so that each syllable connects with the listener and forces them to want a shower in order to wash off the filth. Although the New Wave fan in me prefers the original just because, Lovage's take on the same material sounds much more complete, as though it had been written specifically with Jennifer Charles and Mike Patton in mind. Also, it has less shouting of the phrase “I'm a man” than Berlin's version: Patton does say that line, of course, but in his own way. I'm a fan, even when it gets to the cheesy studio-engineered orgasm towards the end, like the gangsta rap album this isn't.

Another Kid Koala deejay cut, one which still manages to sound like the score from a romantic drama from the 1970s, even with all of the scratches and effects present. Weird.

An interlude featuring Maseo from De La Soul, playing the role of something called a Charmelle Carmel.  You will probably never listen to this a second time, so why waste precious moments the first go-round?

The Automator's instrumental is much better than the song it accompanies. I'm just saying. Charles handles the majority of “Stroker Ace” for dolo, with Patton chiming in only during the hook, and even then his input is rather minimized. It seems that our two vocalists were overwhelmed by how good the actual music was and reacted differently to the challenge. I believe this is the first time I've actually sat through “Stroker Ace” in full since 2001, and I don't feel that I've missed all that much. Oh well.

Conveniently enough, the weakest track on Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By is saved for the very end. Charles and Patton both sound less than invested at this point, as though the hallucinogenics have worn off and they both just now realized that they're recording alleged love songs together: their lack of commitment to lines such as “flowers on your grave” and “I never loved you” (both taken from the hook, neither having to do with the characters from Archie comics) won't help the listener give much of a fuck, and The Automator's instrumental follows those lackadaisical footsteps. This was just boring as hell, Sorry. Adding insult to injury is Dan's decision to end Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By with a reprise of the beat from the far superior “Pit Stop (Take Me Home)”, thereby reminding the audience of a much better song to compare this one to. Sigh.

FINAL THOUGHTS:  Lovage's Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By is a strange duck: it's obviously not meant to be taken seriously (the numerous cameos see to that), but the actual music demands your attention.  Mike Patton and Jennifer Charles give their all to their performances, which hit the right notes the majority of the time: their love songs sound at once romantic, despondent, dark, and carefree.  All of this is tied together by The Automator's masterful production, which weaves in many different musical influences while still holding on to hip hop heads who may have wandered in after Deltron 3030 or Dr. Octagonecologyst.  It's a shame Lovage lasted about as long as it took to tour this project: I could easily see this group as an ideal way to goof off musically every few years or so, constantly challenging one another to say the most fucked-up shit that can still come across as sweet.  So, clearly, I like this shit; I ran out and bought it from a mom-and-pop record store in 2001 without having heard a single syllable, all on the strength of The Automator's past work.  And it was worth the money, as was the instrumental release, which came a bit later.  (By the way, my wife also threw in another Automator instrumental during our ceremony: the beat from Dr. Octagon's "I Got To Tell You", which, honestly, was sampled from something that plays during weddings anyway, but hey, my wife's cool like that.)

BUY OR BURN?  By all means, buy this shit.  It's bold, it's fresh, it holds up after twelve years, and, most importantly, it's actually entertaining.  I know what it says in the price box below, but trust me, it is actually worth it.  And not just because I have a personal bias.

BEST TRACKS:  "Strangers On A Train"; "Book Of The Month"; "Pit Stop (Take Me Home)"; "Everyone Has A Summer"; "Lifeboat"; "Sex (I'm A)"


During their live shows, Patton and Charles would frequently cover the Jennifer Lopez / Ja Rule collaboration "I'm Real".  It doesn't appear on the actual album for obvious reasons, but it's kind of silly.


There's more on The Automator to be found by clicking here.


  1. AnonymousJuly 11, 2013

    Bruno mars.

    1. AnonymousJuly 11, 2013

      I second this. Bruno Mars is the black Justin Timberlake

    2. In that I have no plans on writing about either, I would agree.

  2. I tried looking for my copy of this to follow along with the review, but it appears I have lost my copy. Sheeyit.

    Anyway, I remember enjoying quite a bit of this, but it certainly wasn't top-grade Automator material. Still, it's essential for fans of the guy. Something about his work is so goddamn enthralling.

    Oh yeah, that J-Lo cover is fucking bonkers.

  3. Derek ClaptonJuly 12, 2013

    Never thought I'd see Mike Patton on this blog. I didn't even know this was a thing. Sounds even better than his collaboration with Merzbow.

  4. AnonymousJuly 13, 2013

    awesome im gonna check this one out

  5. AnonymousJuly 14, 2013

    review slayer reign in blood plz

    1. Derek ClaptonJuly 15, 2013

      It IS a Def Jam classic.

  6. Max- Long time listener, first time caller. Just wanted to say that I'm loving all the recent content.

    If yr looking for something new for Something Different, can I suggest the newest Mayer Hawthorne album, Where Does This Door Go? It's full of great hooks and melodies, the kind of album people seem to think Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake are making (they're not; Mayer is). Plus there's a Kendrick Lamar guest spot and it's one of my favorite verses all year. I'd say to seek that track ("Crime") out and if you like it I bet you'd like the whole album. Although I bet you'll grumble about the few brief skits...