Sunday, 9 August 2009

Mr. Bungle - s/t (1991)

This is the last of the impromptu Tomahawk background posts, although Señor Patton will be making more appearances in the future. The order I've done this in might seem to imply that Tomahawk are the culmination of all these lesser career highlights, but this is not the case... Consider the albums from this and the previous three posts equatable to four ancient historic landmarks, demolished for their composite materials. These are used to build a towering modern facility for the common good, one that affords views of the land around. However the ancient foundations remain the same, a testament to it's workmanship...
And somewhere in that garbled metaphor is Mike Patton's quite unfathomable debut record with his first band, Mr. Bungle!

However this wasn't the first major label album he'd appeared on. Having done several cassette-only releases with Bungle in the mid 80's, 1989 saw a 21-year-old Patton assume vocal duties on 'the Real Thing', alternative metal group Faith No More's eclectic third album and the one that launched them on the global circuit. Over this album Patton had no control in the production aside from lyrics, as he was brought on board after the songs were already written, dropping out of college to join.
While 'the Real Thing' was far from a conventional album, it was an MTV hit, and responsible for starting an unfair comparison between Patton and Red Hot Chili Peppers singer/frat-goon Anthony Kiedis with their then-similar vocal styles. A bitter rivalry ensued that eventually resulted in axed Mr.Bungle festival gigs (at the behest of the headliners), many a jibe and vindictive 'tribute gigs'.

'The Real Thing' was a hugely successful debut, but Patton merely used it as a springboard to get his first band a deal and to cut an album that fulfilled the previous decade's most bizarre and twisted, avant-garde metal ambitions... complete with horn section!

The objective for Mr. Bungle was and is (three albums in a decade and they've not announced a break-up) an ALL-in-one philosophy. Every style of music that any member of the band can play (i.e. everything) is given space in any one song; consequently I could spend the next twenty minutes reviewing a song, which simply won't do. Oh... maybe just one then =P

^Oh an egg comes out of a chicken
Oh a chicken comes out of an egg

Here's a good archetype for the album (see above), 'Egg' is the Bungle-ites anthem and it gives you an inkling of how volatile and unpredictable their songs are. It's like a contemporary progressive rock, except instead of boarding school boys droning on about classical/jazz influences, you just have punk rockers on drugs doing everything else!
On 'Egg' you have, in order: funk, polka, ska, space rock, some bad-acid doom metal, a quick freakout combining funk and death metal, then back to the ska figure, after that it kind of goes into meltdown. And that's just under three minutes in to what, on record, is a 10-minute song (my description makes more sense with the album version too =P).

By now you may be getting an idea of the sheer scope a reviewer of this album has to deal with, and at this point I strongly suggest you stop reading and just clarify the situation for yourself. Go on, the words will still be hear when you get back:
256kbps (comprend des oeuvres d'art) Ein, Zwei

I could go on playing 'spot the genre' here, which is tedious for you but good fun for me: free jazz, rapping, carnival music (giving the album it's sinister edge), Middle-Eastern modes, even an elegant strings-and-ballroom waltz to see us off when we finally claw our way out of the rabbit hole... You get the picture. And needless to say it's an awe-inspiring set of musicians indeed that could play all of this and make it look easy to boot.

So while at it's core the album is rooted in funk metal, perhaps evoking traumatic images of a certain rival band's early incarnation; 'Mr. Bungle' is still a groundbreaking concept and essentially the ultimate fusion album... Unless you count the follow-up 'Disco Volante', but we won't go there just yet.
Far from being 'a bit like RHCP', Mr. Bungle are quite possibly the little demonseed offspring of that expert manipulator of rock forms, Frank Zappa. And unlike RHCP, you get the feeling Bungle is a tongue-in-cheek project, they're prodding to see just how much they can get away with.

The record presented here is also the easiest entry point for newbies and the epicentre of Patton's two decades of experimentalism, a manifesto on magnetic tape.

Amendment: Bungle did in fact officially split, inamicably, in 2004; and their debut was produced by avant-jazz giant John Zorn.

No comments: