first heard: mid 2007
The final album in this series represents the beginning of one of the single most talented, original and sonically interesting bands in the history of rock and roll. Mr. Bungle began as the high school band of vocalist Mike Patton, also frontman of Faith No More (Patton was actually invited to join Faith No More after that band’s guitarist Jim Martin heard a speed metal demo Mr. Bungle recorded whilst still in high school), guitarist Trey Spruance and bassist Trevor Dunn, who also all have about 200 other avant-garde side projects between them (I particularly recommend Patton and Dunn’s Fantomas and Spruance’s Secret Chiefs 3). Mr. Bungle was signed to Warner Bros. around 1990 and probably boasts the title of being the single weirdest rock band to ever be signed to a major label.
Mr. B caught my attention around mid 2007, already being a casual fan of Faith No More and seeing their song ‘Epic’ rotated on various terrible Freeview music channels. I downloaded Faith No More’s Angel Dust and quickly learnt of Mike Patton’s reputation as something of a musical Renaissance man along with the particular acclaim of Mr. Bungle. After sampling some of the band’s self titled debut’s tracks on iTunes, I resolved to go out and buy myself a hard copy of the album, a bold move given its legendary musical difficultly.
Superficially, 30 second iTunes samples of tracks such as ‘Squeeze Me Macaroni’ and ‘The Girls of Porn’, bare a resemblance to the funk metal of Faith No More or, dare I say it, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, yet the album itself is something much darker and deeper. Pressing play, you are greeted with what appears to be a sample of someone snoring before a cacophony of death metal guitars and horror movie organs crash in through the window. Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. For the next 73 minutes, the band herky-jerk their way through the literal sound of musical insanity, demonstrating their signature trick of cramming multiple musical genres and styles into single songs without any obvious reason whatsoever. The musical palette consists of a bloodbath of metal and funk guitars, ska horns, circus keyboards and samples from the movie Blue Velvet (which I’ve never seen but probably should do) whilst Patton screams, croons and raps his way through such gleefully irreverent lyrical themes such as dying pet dogs, autoerotic asphyxiation and John Travolta.
Particular highlights on the album include the brutally heavy ‘My Ass is on Fire’ and ‘Quote Unquote’, which are chock full of grinding guitars, sick dissonant keyboards and bizarre vocal ponderings, as well as the delicious ‘Love is a Fist’ which effortlessly melds atonal jazz noodling to an exceedingly headbangable thrash riff. The aforementioned ‘Squeeze Me Macaroni’ and ‘The Girls of Porn’ set depraved and amusing lyrics to an equally depraved ska/funk/metal/samplefest whilst ‘Stub (A Dub)’ appears to boast neither genre nor structure at all. The astonishing closer ‘Dead Goon’ deserves particular attention, featuring a cool-as-fuck chromatic bassline and a stereo production trick in the second half that illustrates the song’s lyrical concept perfectly. I think one of the reasons Mr. Bungle have stayed with me all these years is that they truly are the band that keeps on giving: their music is so overloaded with creative ideas, rich compositional laying and production tricks that I can listen to one of their songs five years later and still notice things within the mix that I never spotted before. This album is certainly no exception, I still don’t have a clue what’s going on at the end of ‘My Ass is on Fire’.
People seem to dismiss this album as being “too weird” without giving it a serious chance, yet I was arrested by it straight away. Although the tracks are defined by their patent disregard for either genre or structural conventions, a lot of the individual riffs and melodies are actually very catchy and deeply rooted in pop culture, check out the interlude of Super Mario samples in the middle of ‘Slowly Growing Deaf’ or the Madness-esque horn harmonies in ‘Carousel’. My dad once described Mr. Bungle as “music for people with short attention spans” so in a world where we spend most of our waking hours bombarded by chaotic snippets of pop culture in the form of advertising jingles, viral pop stars and internet memes, their appeal might start to make some sense. If you’ve ever been to a house party with that one person at the iPod docking station who allows no more than 30 seconds of a song to be played before switching to something completely different, Mr. Bungle might be the album you should buy for them.
Today, Mr. Bungle’s self-titled album isn’t even my favourite of theirs, that honour would go to their genuinely melodic and stunningly well-produced swansong California, although I will whole-heartedly recommend their entire back catalogue to any serious music fan who is looking for a challenging but extremely rewarding listening experience. Looking back, some of the sections on this record are a tad boorish, yet this is the one album that showed me, above all others, that if you go throughout your life dismissing music along arbitrary lines of genres or fashion, you are only depriving yourself of appreciating the work of some incredibly talented and creative individuals creating art for the sake of art. Almost 6 years later, I’ve listened to many wonderful albums across many genres but not since my first contraction of Bungle fever have I yet to have anything hit me in the face like the 3 albums described in this series. If you think you have something that might do the trick, however, I’m certainly all ears.