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In the final part of his series about Faith No More's vocalist Mike Patton's controversial other band Mr Bungle, Jamie Rowland writes about their last two albums, and Patton's feud with Red Hot Chilli Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis
Mr Bungle’s second album, 'Disco Volante', finally appeared in 1995. Alongside the tracks found on the bootlegged demos, there were 8 other tracks of twisted jazz and metal – with a little bit of pop thrown in for good measure.
Opening with ‘Everyone I went to High School with is Dead’, the album hardly gets off to a speedy start. Following this is the instrumental ‘Chemical Marriage’, an organ led freak-out complete with a jazzy rhythm section and mental scat from Patton.
On the album, the version of ‘Carry Stress in the Jaw’ is followed by a hidden track, known as ‘The Secret Song’ (for obvious reasons). This track appeared on the album after the band wrote and recorded a piece of music without telling bassist Trevor Dunn. Dunn found the tape and recorded his own vocal, putting on an “old-man style” voice, and singing “I know the secret song now…” and “they kicked me out of the band!” As a further extension of the secret nature of the song, the new lyrics were kept from singer Mike Patton until shortly before 'Disco Volante' was released.
This light-hearted moment on the album is something of a departure from the rest of the record, which is dark and, at times, slightly disturbing.
On ‘After School Special’, a church organ leads into a delicate vocal from Patton, who sings “Once Dad hit me so hard, Mom felt it on her cheek…”. The Playschool style melody to the song only works to make it all the more disturbing, but not quite as disturbing as the high-pitched voice which sees the song out.
“Stop tickling me,” it says. “Why are you touching me?”
The album is no doubt the most experimental of all of the Mr Bungle records, and this is represented best by the 10 part composition, ‘The Bends’. A series of short pieces fading in and out of each other, this is probably the most challenging piece on the record, if not on all of Mr Bungle’s records, going rapidly from free-jazz, to techno-goth, to random samples and piano loops.
Following this, the last 3 tracks seem very tame and manageable. ‘Backstrokin’ is a shuffling piece of muzak which sounds like it would fit in well at a dancehall on Brighton peer in the 1950's. If it didn’t have lyrics about masturbation in it.
The penultimate track on the album is one of the most accessible. ‘Platypus’, while still full of jazzy horns and rhythms, is a lot more funky and keeps to the same style for the majority of the song. If you’re trying to get someone to listen to this album a bit at a time, this would be one of the first tracks to play.
The album closes with ‘Merry Go Bye-Bye’. At first this is a catchy, poppy piece of music with a really hum-able tune, but a little over a minute into the song, it suddenly falls apart into a screeching, crashing, pounding mess. Eventually, it settles back into a hardcore style which harks back to the band’s first demo, The Raging Wrath of The Easter Bunny, before fading back into the original tune, which is slower and more restrained.
'Disco Volante' is by no means an easy listen, with it’s subcjet matter of child-abuse, complex religious themes and domestic violence, as well as it’s highly experimental musical style. But there is something very satisfying about the record, too.
It has been described as “an inspired mess”, and this is probably the most accurate description for it; difficult to get through, but well worth exploring.
Following the album's release, the band set out on tour once again. They played shows solidly until the end of 1996. This would be the last time Mr Bungle would perform with six members, as Theo Lengyel left the band after the tour was over, and the other members saw no need to replace him.
Following the 'Disco Volante' tour, the members of the band once again got to work on their various side projects. Patton returned to Faith No More as they set to work on what would be their final album, 'Album of the Year', while Heifetz, Spruance and Dunn went to work writing material for their Secret Chiefs 3 project.
In 1998, after Faith No More had announced their split, Mr Bungle came back together to record new material for their third release: 'California'.
Released in 1999, this is Mr Bungle’s masterpiece. Bizarre yet accessible, eclectic but stylised, it’s the perfect mix of surf guitar, new romantic style ballads, world music and metal.
The album opens with the sounds of the sea lapping against the tide, then fades into the whistled intro of ‘Sweet Charity’, a slowly building tropical surf guitar track, with a pounding chorus.
‘None of Them New They Were Robots’ is similar in some ways to the songs on 'Mr Bungle', sounding as it does like freakish carnival music. The difference is this sounds like a mature piece of song-writing, rather than a bunch of competent adult musicians pretending they are still 15. The song is aggressive and psychedelic, the soundtrack to a cartoon horror film.
One of the most memorable tracks from California is ‘The Air-Conditioned Nightmare’. This song really sums up the whole feel of the album; bringing to mind the hot California sun and beautiful oceans – as well as how messed up some people are; the song seemingly based on the inhabitants of an institution.
‘Ars Moriendi’ is possibly one of the most frantic and bi-polar pieces of music ever recorded, bouncing from style to style with seemingly little effort and getting faster and faster as it goes along, eventually coming to a crashing climax. A mix of African, Asian and South American styles, it is Mr Bungle at their most playful.
‘Pink Cigarette’ would be considered a surprise on any other former death metal band’s album, but with Mr Bungle people had come to expect the unexpected. The song is dark ballad about lost love and suicide. It’s a chance to catch your breath after the fast-paced ‘Ars Moriendi’.
‘Vanity Fair’ is a retro-pop song with doo-wops and bah-bahs accompanying lyrics about a religious sect who believe in self-castration to achieve cleansing of the soul. Well, you can’t expect Mr Bungle to have a pretty tune and attractive lyrics.
The album closes with ‘Goodbye Sober Day’, a toned down version of the carnival ride style of ‘None of them Knew…’, with a more straight rock influence. Towards the end, the song turns into a tribal style chant, hinting at what Patton would go on to do with his band Fantomas.
'California' is Mr Bungle’s finest hour; an album which should have opened them up to a much wider audience. It may well have been a much bigger album, had it not been for a long running feud between Mike Patton and Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s front-man Anthony Kiedis.
After the success of Faith No More’s single ‘Epic’ in the early 1990s, Kiedis accused Patton of stealing his style. In turn, Patton bad-mouthed Kiedis, and a small war-of-words broke out.
The feud was considered over until, while touring to support 'California', Mr Bungle were suddenly pulled from several support slots at major European festivals. It transpired that Kiedis has threatened to pull his band from these festivals’ unless Mr Bungle were thrown off the bill.
Infuriated, Patton and his band played a show in Pontiac, Michigan dressed as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and danced around pretending to inject themselves with heroin and doing covers of “really bad songs”. In retaliation, Kiedis had them kicked off some Australian festivals too.
After the tour for California, the band went their separate ways once again. A few rumours arose of EPs being released and song ideas being passed around, but in 2003 Mike Patton said in an interview with underdog.com:
“I think Mr Bungle is over. The guys are spread all over the world and we don’t talk to each other. I haven’t spoken to some of the guys since the last tour, years ago.”
Trevor Dunn finally lowered the curtain on Mr Bungle when he said on his own website “Bungle is dead. Please realize that.”
Mr Bungle may not have gone out with a bang, but their career made a huge impact on the music scene, and the music they made was, and will be hugely influential to many artists for years to come.