Review Summary: Executed brilliantly and written excellently, this album's chief problem is the monotony that inevitably comes when a band makes novelty its byword.
It can be both difficult and easy to say how music makes you feel. Many have described a band like Slayer as “terrifying” or inspiring rage and anger. Other bands like Jimmy Eat World or the Fray stir happy, floating-along kinds of emotions, with their upbeat tempos and poppy structures. Some bands, like Tool, cover every “dark” feeling there could ever be, and still more bands like System of a Down or Opeth target a wide emotional palette. This kind of diversity is what really makes an artist good. You can incorporate as many styles as you like, or span five time signatures in as many seconds while sweep-picking a pentatonic arpeggio or whatever you like, but these are not signs of the true diversity of an artist. A truly great band can effortlessly summon up any from a wide range of feelings and put you effectively into that frame of mind.
Sadly happiness and glee do not often fit in with the ambitions of these bands. That’s something for pop music, some might sneer. You aren’t supposed to feel good when you listen to music; it should make you feel awe or terror or gloom or METAL RAGE LOL (insert devil horns and exclamation points here). Something epic or majestic; nothing as simple as plain satisfaction. If such joy is to be found, it must be in the form of an unexpected polka interlude or snide pop parody; something bands like to throw in for comic effect- never out of serious ambition to create mood or feeling.
How does Mr. Bungle’s debut album fit into this? In some ways it’s something of a caricature and in other ways it shatters the mold into tiny fragments. The band summons up feelings of the most pure bliss and joy. For starters their lyrics, when not utterly disgusting and vile (“Squeeze My Macaroni,” “The Girls Of Porn”), they’re hilarious. Secondly, the genre flipping is used to such brilliant, immature, jarring effect here that you can’t help but laugh a little. I get a grin on my face whenever the piano on “Quote Unquote” gives way to the sinister reggae section. Is this a sign of talented cohesive songwriting? Not in the slightest! But it works just based on the shock value of it. And boy does this record ever shock. On the off chance that more than any given minute makes any sense whatsoever, it is always punctuated by Mike Patton’s manic voice. You could write an encyclopedia on this man and it would not be enough. This man appears to be capable of anything, but more important he shows a bit of restraint. Meaning that he does not fill every available second with gibbering and howling aka a certain vocalist for Dir en Grey. Instead he makes great use of his obnoxious yet awesome singing voice, reverting to other singing styles as secondary methods of vocalizing rather than in equal measure.
This is not the only place where restraint could be found on this record (“Slowly Going Deaf” and “Egg” are almost tame-seeming) but it’s very close. The drums hurdle through the rapid sonic shifts with ease with a couple cool fills. The stringed instruments aren’t especially technical, but the ease with which they mix it up is stunning. Although no instrument is really impressive, the genius of the riffs and the effectiveness with which they hit you is astounding. The horn riff of “Carousel” is one of the most excellent and satisfying parts of any song I’ve ever heard. No exaggeration. The effect of this mad-scientist approach to songwriting and the even more maniacal snarling, whooping, crooning and howling of Monsieur Patton is indescribably potent.
What is not so potent is the sense that this record is something of a one-trick pony. The band never exactly runs out of steam, but the incredible length of the record, although an asset in that it allows the band to actually flesh out its crazy ideas rather than suggest them and move on, makes it hard to listen to past perhaps the first 5-6 tracks. Luckily there are relaxation points in the overly long segues between songs, which range from boring and annoying to utterly hilarious. The two involving the eponymous Mr. Bungle are great in particular. But when the only impact a band makes on you for 73 minutes is nightmarish yet hilarious disorientation, it gets a little old. All the riffs are catchy and seem to have actual thought put into them (instead of relying simply on their shock value like Between the Buried and Me seems to enjoy). It genuinely seems as if the band likes all its different genres/influences almost equally and wants to combine them all. However, since they don’t know anything about how to make fluid, logical transitions or write tasteful songs, they have to settle for the same holy-***-what’s-going-on feeling which starts feeling a little less awesome once “Stubb A Dub” fades from the speakers.
I wish there was more I had to say that made this album sound great, because it is. Its main flaw is its overlong running time and its inability to change up the impression it leaves on the listener as often as it changes styles or genres. On the positive side is much more. Everything is done with this sick, carnival-like tone that creates a great atmosphere, for 45 minutes anyway. All the parts work well, both on their own and together, and any single song is purely glorious. The only problem is the adherence to formula, a criticism that the band has probably not faced before. From what I’ve heard of California, that album has solved a great deal of the problems. As it is, this is a flawed but awesome record that works very well as it is, but could be better.