Review Summary: A step in the right direction for Nuno Bettencourt and his new band. Great coherent album that truly defines "Heavy Funk".
The band called “Mourning Widows” was officially founded by Nuno Bettencourt in 1998, just after the promotional tour for his solo album, Schizophonic
, came to an end. Bettencourt had expressed his desire to start a real band, as opposed to the solo career he was starting to build with Schizophonic
, as soon as the latter was out, in early 1997. Wishing to create a sound more oriented towards what he referred to as “Heavy Funk”, he invited his nephew Donovan Bettencourt, with whom he had been touring, to take on the bassist position. Drum-maestro Mike Mangini, his former band mate during the Waiting For The Punchline
period with Extreme, briefly accepted to be the drummer for Bettencourt’s yet-to-be-named band, but finally stepped down as he embarked on extensive touring with Steve Vai. Through 1998, still drummer-less, Nuno came up with the name “Mourning Widows”, and by the end of the year he landed a contract that would allow him to release the material he had been working on. So in December 1998 the self titled album Mourning Widows
was out and once again Nuno had recorded all the instruments (but the bass, by Donovan Bettencourt).
So how is this album a change in direction for Nuno Bettencourt?
First of all, the overall sound of Mourning Widows
is more clearly defined as a whole than in his previous effort. Whereas Schizophonic
stood for some kind of musical outburst that allowed him to express all his personal ideas that had gone “repressed” during his days with "Extreme", Mourning Widows
shows a more centered musician who has found a musical domain that he entirely wishes to assume with his new band. The fact is that there is more coherence between the songs in this album than in his previous one.
Second of all, Bettencourt’s will to be in a band can be felt throughout the album. Even though the skillful guitar solos are still there, the music does not primarily revolve around the sounds he produces with his guitar, as was the case in his previous album. The rhythm section defines a straightforward funk-rock sound that Bettencourt wishes his newly formed band to be associated with (although he played the instrument in the recording, he credited the drums to “Billy Vegas”). In some songs the drumming is remarkable, and in most of them is does not go unnoticed: the use of double-bass and fast jumping patterns accompanied by precise and heavy bass lines is the trademark of this album. Concerning the guitar work, Bettencourt adopts a more rhythmic approach to his playing by producing chord progressions and riffs closely linked to the rhythm that is set out by the drums and the bass, and by bursting out funkier solos.
Now on to the music.
The opener All Automatic
clearly sets out the tone for the album. Before the song starts, one can hear a recording of some guy explaining what he expects of the music his band is going to make: “…you want people dancing…”. It’s a sound similar to that of Steve Vai’s funkiest and more melodic moments. But the rhythm section remains predominant throughout the song. The first part of the album is therefore characterized by a heavy sound that borrows elements from the Chili Peppers’ and Rage Against The Machine’s funkiest side, as it can be heard in the song The Air You Breathe
. Nevertheless, Nuno Bettencourt’s own sense of melody is always present as he sings incredibly catchy choruses in songs such as Paint The Town Red
and The Temp
, and his musical creativity is displayed in his “funk-fusion” riffs and solos, as well as in the rhythmic showcase of jumping drum patterns and driving bass lines.
Then come three songs that are a bit closer to the grungier alternative rockers from Schizophonic
: I Wanna Be Your Friend
, Hotel Asylum
and Over & Out
. Even if they show some tight drum arrangements and Nuno-like guitar playing, they hand out some catchy melodies in a generic kind of way that slightly divert from the direction set in the first moments of the album.
The two following songs are album highlights (as are the two album openers). Love Is A Cigarette
is my personal favorite and I believe it to be the best expression of what Bettencourt meant when he spoke about a “Heavy Funk Trio”. It displays a perfect balance between incredibly heavy-funk rhythmic section and melody. The distorted guitar riff and the strumming of the power chords adjust wonderfully to the beat defined by the bass and drums, as one can hear during the verse and the jumping chorus. The song ends with a 3 minute long instrumental section in which the listener almost gets the feeling of hearing a band jamming together as the unstoppable funky rhythm created by the drum and bass leads the way during Bettencourt’s best guitar solo of the album. Too Late
is another great song, in which the verses, while not extremely complex musically speaking, manage to capture a great funky vibe that culminates in a tasteful guitar solo by Bettencourt.
The three songs that close the album are weaker than the rest. True Love In The Galaxy
is a catchy soft one that slowly leads the listener towards the end of the album. While it does not have the power of some of the previous songs, it does not disappoint either. The two demos that close the album, Sex In A Jar
and “And The Winner Is...”
have great rhythmic ideas, but ultimately do not go in the same direction as the funkier songs of the album, and are closer to alternative rock.
Once again, Bettencourt puts out an album in which there are strong points without incredibly weak ones. The musical direction he adopted clearly fits his band, and has allowed him to offer the public a piece of work in which ALL the songs are somehow linked together coherently, and therefore define a particular style (Heavy Funk, in Bettencourt’s words) that is clearly recognizable. This is why I give this album a 4.5.