A key part of Faith No More for much of their career, Mike Patton was a clear star from the moment he joined the band – but his contributions to music didn’t end there. As part of Faith No More Week, we take a look at the other acts bearing Patton’s remarkable talents – starting with:
Where do we begin with Mr. Bungle? It’s a tough call. But, were I pushed to pick one name and one name only, I would say that Mr Bungle are my favourite band of all time. That’s a mighty big claim, so let’s see if we can justify it, shall we?
Probably the first thing we need is context. In the early nineties, the internet didn’t exist in any meaningful way. As a wide-eyed teen, I was only aware of Mr. Bungle through a combination of oblique references in articles about Faith No More in music magazines and the fact Mike Patton sported a Bungle t-shirt in the “Epic” music video. So the first time that Mr. Bungle’s music entered my ears was when a friend bought me their eponymous, major label debut for my birthday.
In many ways, I was woefully underprepared for the explosion of inventiveness that erupted from my tape deck (how cute!) when I pushed the play button. Right from the first track, Mr. Bungle plunges the unsuspecting listener into a somewhat nightmarish carnival world, where songs change direction, even leaping from genre to genre, without the slightest warning and frequently descending into total, shrieking cacophony.
With the tracks on the debut flowing seamlessly from one to the next via a series of sinister and twisted spoken word samples and shards of noise, it draws you in and refuses to let go. Lyrically, the themes are just as twisted – and certainly taught this naive teen rather more than he was bargaining for about sexual fetish – “Squeeze Me Macaroni” is a graphic (and remarkably funky) peon to sex with food and “The Girls Of Porn“, well, does what it says on the tin. It’s not for the faint-hearted or prudish, folks.
Elsewhere, “Stubb (A Dubb)” is a blackly humorous ode to a family dog that bounces from demented theme to demented theme without even pausing for breath. Tracks like “My Ass Is On Fire” and “Love Is A Fist” are slightly more straightforward, but still find their own ways to surprise the listener.
In retrospect, there is a case to be made that Patton used Mr. Bungle as a way to react against his day job in Faith No More. The debut jarred against the rather more clean-cut, poster boy image that was being cultivated on his behalf – and this was only magnified in second album, Disco Volante. Released at the very peak of Faith No More’s popularity in 1995, Disco Volante is a squalling, discordant and powerfully awkward record that now has ‘For completionists only’ stamped all over it. But, nevertheless, “Desert Search For Techno Allah” may be one of the best song titles ever conceived.
Mr. Bungle did not then release new material until 1999, when Faith No More had already been laid to rest. But it was worth the wait. California is Mr. Bungle’s grown-up album and – to these ears – the single best album in Patton’s considerable back catalogue. Still retaining their trademark madness, California is more polished and contains less of the overtly shocking subject matter. But, with that being said, the lyrics to “Pink Cigarette” are rather more hard-hitting than you might expect on first listen.
Without Faith No More’s demands on Patton’s time, Mr. Bungle were able to tour. So in September 2000, in the late great London Astoria, I was able to see them perform. In typical fashion, they resisted having a traditional support band and instead sent a children’s magician out onto the stage instead. He gamely ploughed through his act amongst a flurry of heckles, then won the entire crowd over by pulling an actual rabbit out of a hat. It was a pretty singular evening.
That is appropriate, as Mr. Bungle are a singular band. From my perspective, they were the band that taught me that whilst music is founded on rules, almost all of them can be broken with the application of skill and imagination – and that is probably the single most valuable musical lesson of my life, bar none.
For the uninitiated, listening to the albums in chronological order provides the purest hit. But for a slightly easier ride, listen to California first, then Mr. Bungle and leave Disco Volante for when you’re feeling brave. If you still then find yourself hankering for more, then there are no fewer than four demo tapes swirling around online from before they were signed waiting to be found. Each of these demos contains at least one song that was re-recorded for the debut album, so it is a fascinating peek into the development of the band.
I guess the final surprise that Mr. Bungle can give is the realisation that the members were all in high school when they started writing these songs. Considering the advanced musicianship and the sheer depth of their imagination, this is genuinely startling. I really can not underestimate just how important Mr. Bungle are to me and how my tastes were shaped – probably even more so than Faith No More themselves. So, if you’ve never listened to Mr. Bungle, my question is simple; What the hell are you waiting for?