Mr Bungle’s reunion 20 years after they last released an album is one of the few highpoints of 2020. Fans of the Mike Patton-fronted cult band rejoiced as if it were the second coming, while a whole generation of music lovers too young to remember them scratched their heads. If you’re in the latter camp and want to know what all the fuss is about, fear not, here is the best place to start; the 10 finest moments in the Mr. Bungle cannon to date.
Quote Unquote (1991)
Mr Bungle’s debut single and the first song on their self-titled debut album, was originally titled Travolta in tribute to the actor of the same name until the actor lawyers clocked that it wasn’’t an entirely positive representation. The Saturday Night Fever star might not be a fan, but if you like the idea of a seven-minute-long, funk heavy, stomper of a song, complete with a vampiric organ underpin and a big brass freak out to close us out, then you might well be. The video, which featured the band being hung on meat hooks, is pretty fucked up too, and landed Mr. Bungle an MTV ban.
Squeeze Me Macaroni (1991)
Squeeze Me Macaroni could have been a hit if it were not for the fact that it seems to go out of its way to try and out-weird Primus to the power of ten. The liquid bass and jangling guitar that open the song is so infectious that it would get a morgue shaking its butt, but then a massive doom riff comes in, a load of horns begin to squeal discordantly and Patton starts screaming as if he’s having root canal surgery with no anesthetic... and this is only two minutes in. We can only imagine the nervous breakdown it would have given the record label executive responsible for the band on his first listen. Which kind of makes it all the more enjoyable.
Love Is A Fist (1991)
The first Mr. Bungle album is amazing, and you could pick pretty much any of the bizarre oddities available for inclusion here, so Love Is A Fist gets in due the gang-chants of its title alone. One of the most classically metal sounding compositions on the album, the song manages to strut down that thinnest of lines between sounding like Cro-Mags at their hardest, avant garde musician John Zorn (who produced the album) at his most volatile and, well, all of the air being let out of a massive balloon all at once. Quite the skill.
Everyone I Went to High School with Is Dead (1995)
If people thought that the first Mr Bungle album was challenging, then the follow up, 1995’s Disco Volante, soon put paid to the idea that the band had got all of their more bizarre ideas out of their system. It is certainly the hardest album to penetrate that the band ever put out, and if you can get through the opening track here, with its guttural doom riff, a ticking, screaming, wailing vocal performance from Mike Patton and, what we assume is, the sound of a brass orchestra falling down an iron staircase, then you may have the stomach for what comes after it. Although don’t quote us on that.
Desert Search For Techno Allah (1995)
With its Eastern textures and throbbing, electronic underbelly, you could argue that Desert Search for Techno Allah is the closest thing resembling a single on Disco Volante. That might be the case, but it’s still a stretch to imagine this being much of a floorfiller, not when you’ve got the dog barking Patton performance and angular theremin sounds scribbling all over the propulsive groove. Still, if you’re looking for a moment of semi-normality on this album then here it is.
A song which comes roaring out of the gate, with a massive punk rock thrust, before turning into a slow, haunting, funereal march, before the drums start doing the punk thing again. Unfortunately, no one else in the band seems to have got the message, continuing in their slow, lurching pace. It’s genuinely disorientating to listen to, and the last minute, where a discordant clarinet leads the band is maybe even more fucked up sounding. It’s everything that makes Mr. Bungle so odd rolled into one loopy little package.
Sweet Charity (1999)
The third Mr. Bungle album, 1999’s California, is the finest and most complete record the band have made to date. Mainly because it is the one that allows the band to actually explore melody and more classic song structures to the fullest, alongside their trademark wackiness. Album opener Sweet Charity is the perfect palette cleanser, featuring a loungey, 60’s vibe and a louche and luscious vocal performance from Mike Patton, whilst still maintaining a David Lynch like oddness that is far harder to put your finger on.
Covered by Orange County megastars Avenged Sevenfold on the deluxe edition of their 2016 album The Stage, Retrovertigo is a dreamy acoustic led number that once again lets Patton flex his incredible range and actually gives us a chorus. It still contains the kind of choices and decisions that most bands would baulk at, such as the use of finger clicks and cimbalom to drive the song until the awe-inspiring, booming, stirring outro. It’s at that point that you would have to conceded that this is a more mature Mr. Bungle than the one we’d previously been exposed to.
Pink Cigarette (1999)
Another slower number from California, this time with a spaghetti western twang and a touch of Eastern mysticism. That Pink Cigarette is a song that wouldn’t have seemed totally out of place on Faith No More’s Album Of The Year, 1997’s final FNM album before the bands initial split, is more evidence of their transition into more conventional territories. Not that Faith No More were a particularly linear band themselves, but even they were some way from the madness of Mr. Bungle at their most experimental.
Vanity Fair (1999)
At just under three minutes, and with hardly of whiff of bizarreness or musical antagonism, Vanity Fair might just be Mr. Bungle at their most commercially acceptable. Vanity Fair is a banger; a doo-wop, jazz hands in the air, soulful crooner of a song, which you could imagine sounding incredible on the biggest festival stages in the world. So, just to be clear, they can write songs – they just don’t want to so much. Which is fair enough.