Anyone who remembers the first time they heard a rap-rock song on the radio will probably think of Faith No More's "Epic"...a song progressive in the sense that it melded two styles that had never merged before: Metal and Rap. Whether this was a good thing is up to your personal taste.
Mike Patton, the singer for Faith No More always led the band on unusual pathways...The Real Thing (the album featuring "Epic") was littered with a variety of styles: prog instrumentals, rap-metal, Black Sabbath covers, etc. This however was not enough to appease Patton's creativity, so he created Mr. Bungle, a project with old friends from the northern coasts of Cali.
California is Mr. Bungles third recording, and very much a treat. Is this a progressive CD? You bet! This is prog in a whole different realm than much of what I have heard. It is prog-metal from a world totally different from Dream Theatre and Savatage. It is symphonic in a way that clashes Yes with Zappa, The Residents with Genesis. It mixes Zorn with Crimson and Ennio Morricone with Gwar. All of this, and so much more.
1. “Sweet Charity” begins the proceedings with a haunting 60s Hawaiian movie soundtrack...seagulls, crashing waves and Hawaiian slide guitar. It reminds me of something that you might hear as backing music for "Valley of the Dolls" or some psychadelic version of "Caberet". As with the rest of the album, very appropriate to the overall concept. Very deep sounding sonically! Then take all of that and combine it with something from Stereolab's Sound Dust CD and you have Sweet Charity.
2. “None Of Them Knew They Were Robots” - What would it sound like if the Munsters threw a thrash party? What if The Stray Cats put out a metal album with an overdriven horn section. This song crosses so many genres it is incredible...surf-punk, big band jazz, thrash-metal, prog, space rock...excellent! To think that Patton does all of these vocal overdubs leads me to believe that he is the most experimental vocalist since Peter Hammill...he even sings in Latin! (By the way the lyrics are incredible!)
3. “Retrovertigo”: Nice Ballad. One of the more staight-forward pieces on the CD. Haunting, and an excellent break in the weirdness. It begins with acoustic guitar and electric piano through a very nice series of chords through the verses, ending on a very dissonant but appropriate chord. The choruses pick up only slightly with heavily effected drums and vibes. Cellos and string synths, then the electric guitars begin kicking in...then it dawns on me this is a pop song, but unlike any I have ever heard before.
4. “Air Conditioned Nightmare” - Flamenco castanet and handclaps with Beach Boys harmonies is how this song starts. Again the comparisons...Smile-era Beach Boys meats early Beatles meets Metallica. The chorus (if this is a chorus) occurs over a drum pattern straight from "Wipeout". The song ends with a vocal section that seems almost doo-wop.
5. “Ars Moriendi”: What would happen if Metallica guitars met Omar Faruk Tekbellik and the mariachi band at your local Mexican restaurant. Gypsy violins and accordions...and this is only in the first minute! If there is a prog-metal song on this CD this is it, but totally unlike any other prog-metal song you've ever heard. Excellent!!
6. “Pink Cigarette”: Picture Portishead doing a trip-hop cover of a 60s Ennio Morricone soundtrack, add some Frank Zappa-esque doo-wop vocals and some Alice Cooper spookiness and you have this song. Good, but probably my least favorite song.
7. “Golem II - The Bionic Vapor Boy": Beyond description. Synth funk meets carnival music. Gentle Giant style clavinet, cool vocoder, funky sections that sound like Billy Preston on acid. This is an incredible song for the production value alone...but the 10/4 measures that slip in every now and again are nice too!
8. “The Holy Filament”: Slow and haunting..very reminiscent of a song from Alice Cooper from the Welcome To My Nightmare album that I think was called "Stephan". Nice Banksian piano parts.
9. “Vanity Fair”: Another Do-wop type song. Fitting in it's place on the album. Interesting "haunted house section" in the middle.
10. “Goodbye Sober Day”: Great Finale!!! Another genre busting tune..sort of a combination of everything heard earlier. Gregorian chant and a 'chaka chaka' part vaguely similar to "Ritual" by Yes. An excellent finish.
In a perfect world, this recording should have been huge!
Patton and the Bungle have managed to create the almost perfect experiment pop metal album. It is more experimental and far more catchier than Radiohead's OK Computer (it is one of the most experimental disks I've heard in years) and catchy at the same time. It's more metal than any pop album, more prog than any prog-metal album, and more experimental than most newer prog albums...it doesn't sound anything like Yes, Tull, Genesis, Rush, , and yet it manages to capture the spirit, creativity, virtuosity, and originality of any (and all) of these bands.
And sonically, this disk will rival the Dark Side Of The Moon or anything else for years to come. IT IS VERY RARE TO HEAR A STUDIO PLAYED THIS WELL!!!
There are a few downsides, but minor ones. This CD is short, at roughly 45 minutes. Also, you have to go to the website for lyrics, as none are printed in the liner notes (which I think is the most disappointing thing about this disk). Also, it takes a couple of listens to grasp the depth of this (which to me is not a bad thing, but may be to others).
By this glowing review, you can probably tell that I highly recommended this CD, but I will go one farther. I will say if there is any one CD after 1995 that can stand side to side with Close To The Edge, Red, Lamb Lies Down, Pawnhearts, or whatever, this is most certainly it.
Is this progressive? Oh my God!
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