Speakers Rating: 92/100
When Nicole Atkins was 14, she broke her nose at a Meatpuppets/Blind Melon show. Someone’s boot crashed down on her face, and since she had snuck out to see the show, her parents didn’t fix the damn thing. And while I don’t know Atkins personally, I’m guessing she is pretty tough. Her songs aren’t cute on Mondo Amore, even when they’re about those days when you cry, cry, cry. Atkins’ songs are dark, soulful mysteries that open up to reveal their scars after repeated listens; they seductively whisper in your ear, even make you bleed a little. It’s her voice, mostly, that does the damage — a unique siren that oozes confidence and a certain kind of haunting that Jack Torrance made famous in The Shining. (Basically, I’m in love with her fucking voice.)
Atkins’ music does not rely on bells and whistles for effect. Mondo Amore is as natural sounding as a record gets these days; its opening song, “Vultures,” greets you like a sharp, biting January wind that creeps against your skin and pulses into your soul. “Hotel Plaster” eerily leaves its mark in a different way — it longs for redemption, clings to hope — but I feel the same result: some sort of empty prison where there are more questions than answers.
In a way, this is a classic set up. “You Come To Me” and “My Baby Don’t Lie” hold no prisoners with their swagger and ability to pick you up and throw you into a world where Atkins is giving out demands. It’s not until the grand finale, “The Tower,” quite possible Atkins’ best song, where things crumble again, when reality proves too powerful. “I wish we’d said goodbye,” Atkins sings. It is a frantic and beautiful way to end the album, even if it is ostensibly about final days and final breaths, and the moments that passed you by. Just another reason why Mondo Amore is Nicole Atkins’ crowning achievement to date, a record where tough love is the brightest star in the darkest sky.