My reviews of Mr. Bungle’s albums.
Mr. Bungle Demo Reviews:
As a bonus, here are my brief reviews of their demos, too:
1986: The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny (5/10)
Bungle’s first demo shows very little of the signs of their late demos that they were something unique in music, reviving a sound that had been dead since the late ’60s. And that’s weird.
The demo is almost totally straight-up Metallica / Anthrax, albeit with a sense of humour that those bands never had. (Also, I hear Motorhead, but that comes through the Metallica influence. And there’s a death metal influence, I think.) Only two songs on the album suggest this is not your typical thrash metal band: “Hypocrites,” a sort of ska pop song that deviates back into metal, and “Evil Satan,” which is pretty much the only sign of what they would later become. It’s undeniable these guys were talented, but they sound pretty derivative here.
And that’s weird, because I’m pretty sure a high school concert that used to be on YouTube was filmed prior to this demo. And that show is weirder. And that begs the question, why is this so derivative? I think it’s because Bungle were trying to sell themselves to thrash labels, hoping they would get a deal where they could then unleash their true craziness. At least I hope so.
Oh yeah: The production quality is terrible.
2023: This was of course, infamously rerecorded as their 4th official/reunion album. The production is much better there.
1987: Bowel of Chiley (6/10)
This second Bungle demo is a lot closer to their “mature” sound than the first – if you can call early ’90s Bungle “mature” – but they kind of sound like a metal-influenced Camper van Beethoven on crack here. I guess that doesn’t give full credit to their weirdness – even at this early stage they were significantly weirder than CVB, but if CVB really was an influence on Bungle (and I can’t help but think they were) this demo reeks of that influence more than anything else they ever recorded. It’s way crazier than CVB ever got, but it’s also a lot less tight. I guess I am trying to say that when CVB did their far less zany shtick, it sounded refined and polished in comparison to this stuff.
It’s interesting to hear for Bungle fans, and it’s interesting to hear the genesis of at least one track to make the debut, but otherwise this is pretty rough. The talent is there, the discipline and Zappa-esque assault on contemporary rock is not really there yet.
1988: Goddammit I Love America!!! (7/10)
For me, this is the first Bungle demo that really sounds like Bungle, rather than a bunch of guys who would turn into Bungle later. A lot of that has to do with the presence of songs that make the debut, but they sound a lot better – more coherent, more obviously themselves instead of a Metallica- or Camper van Beethoven-wannabes, and just way more like the band I fell in love with.
This is still pretty rough – they were still a ways from refining their very unique sound (and you could argue the debut was still very unrefined) but most of the elements of early ’90s Bungle are here in some way or other, albeit in a very early, scatter-shot form.
1989: OU818 (8/10)
This demo, their last before their major deal, starts out as a not very funny parody of a hip hop mix tape.
Most of the actual musical material made it to the debut, and a lot of it is somewhat close to the sound of said debut, minus the production: the sound is clearly not up the Warner debut quality but also there is ample evidence that the band needed a producer (as in a person who would edit their work and tell them what works and what wouldn’t). And that may seem like an odd thing given that their debut sounds like Zorn just let them do whatever they wanted. However, Zorn appears to have brought out their best in a way the actual band couldn’t. Despite the huge number of video, video game and home made samples on the debut, the actual tracks on the debut are significantly tighter and more dynamic. And that’s probably what’s the most glaringly obvious thing about this: the opening is immature and stupid and the remaining tracks are not quite there. (So, if you find Mr. Bungle’s debut immature, don’t listen to this.)
It’s interesting though. If Patton had never joined FNM, and Bungle had never got their major label deal, and, say, the band broke up after this record, I think this would be regarded very differently. But, given that they got their deal and went on to make three of the greatest avant rock albums of all time, it’s hard to look at this demo as much more than their (early) sound in embryo.
It’s still their best demo, though. Far and away.
1991: Mr. Bungle (9/10)
I spent most of my young life listening to one very specific era of music, and it was to my detriment. As I got older, I got a little more adventurous, which mostly meant prog rock.
At some point I bought this record. I’m not sure why I did exactly – it might have been recommended by a friend as I knew at least one Bungle fan in first year university, or it might have been something I read about on All Music. In any case, at first I loved “The Girls of Porn” and couldn’t really be bothered with the rest of the album, as it was too weird and too metal for me. (I didn’t listen to metal.)
At some point, I did begin to listen to the entire thing, on occasion – much to the annoyance of the people on my floor in residence – and came to love it.
This is absolutely the least focused and least mature Bungle album. But that being said, it’s still a rather remarkable achievement – Fisbhone on crack, you might call it.
It’s not that nobody had ever made music like this before – Fishbone definitely made music somewhat like this, albeit far more restrained and with far less metal. But the particular combination of elements (Zappa, ska, metal, Fishbone, Camper Van Beethoven, video games, carnival music) was pretty unique. And the commitment to this style – no concessions to commercial viability here – is admirable.
This is Bungle’s least good official record [Note: until their reunion record] but it’s still one of the best albums of 1991, in my mind, and it’s an ear-opening experience to a young music fan.
A personal favourite, even if it’s not as good as their later records.
Read my reviews of music from 1991. This is my #7 album.
1995: Disco Volante (10/10)
For the first 12 or so years of my life, I listened only to “oldies” and vocal pop. (Back then, “oldies” meant ’50s music, ’60s pop music, and the odd ’70s song that was safe enough.) I really had no one to guide me musically.
Fortunately, one of the bands I was introduced to through oldies radio was The Beatles. Eventually I listened to The White Album and my world changed. I began to understand that melody wasn’t the be-all end-all of music and that there was a whole, gigantic world of other sounds out there. The White Album changed my life more than any other album. But Disco Volante is a close second.
I didn’t get to this album until I was 20 or so. I had already heard their debut and appreciated it (at the time) more for its humour than for its artistry. And I bought Disco Volante probably in the hope that there would be another song that I liked as much as “The Girls of Porn.” (Don’t worry, that’s no longer my favourite song on the debut.)
So, imagine my surprise… I imagine it’s much the same as the surprise of anyone who has ever listened to this without warning (or without having first listened to The Mothers of Invention).
Bungle gets attacked for being “Zappa fetishists” but this attack has always bothered me. It’s not like other bands don’t take inspiration from their predecessors. Just because this album uses The Mothers’ musique concrete phase as a palette doesn’t mean they’re ripping off Zappa. Hell, I don’t know of any other band that learned as much from those early Zappa records. I mean, The Mothers kicked the door down, and it was like the rest of the world turned their backs on what was on the other side of the door. Until Bungle (and a few other bands) finally followed them through the door.
Just because this record is difficult doesn’t mean it should be ignored and maligned. There is nothing wrong with trying to chart your own path. If that path happens to involve risk-taking and breaking conventions, that’s a good thing. I don’t understand how people can decry this stuff as “noise.” There are songs here, you just have to give them the time they deserve.
Some of these songs are among the best avant rock/experimental rock ever made. But you’ll never know that if you listen to this album once and decide it’s “noise” or it’s “pretentious.” (Saying something experimental is ‘pretentious’ has got to be one of the laziest criticisms of experimental music going.)
Anyway… this album warped my fragile mind when I was 20 and I’ve never been able to go back. My tastes have expanded exponentially and I have a broad and healthy definition of music. That’s thanks to The Beatles and Mr. Bungle. Seriously.
I think this is probably the best/most forward-thinking experimental/avant rock album released between We’re Only in it for the Money and 1995. It’s that good. (It’s my #1 album of 1995 for what it’s worth.) And if you like interesting music, you owe it to yourself to listen to this (more than once).
1999: California (10/10)
Disco Volante is, for me, the greatest avant rock album in nearly three decades. (Or, at the very least, the greatest post-Zappa avant rock album in nearly three decades.) It’s as if Zappa kicked down the door and few people were willing to go through. And the album (and Bungle) has been surprisingly influential, now that whole horribly named “Rock against rock” thing has become a thing.
But if there was one criticism that could be leveled against Disco Volante, it was a lack of songs. Sure, there are some, but they are interspersed with “compositions” and all sorts of willfully difficult passages breaking those songs into sometimes incomprehensible pieces (or revealing that the songs are merely incomplete song fragments). Not so here.
Bungle take their musique concrete/Zappa razor and use it on pop music: on the Beach Boys, on lounge music, on Do-Wop, on Surf Music. Some of the usual influences appear (metal, world music, film music, etc.) but this time it’s as part of a record that is, at least in terms of Bungle (or the Mothers, for that matter), accessible. I don’t think there’s anything else like it.
And the interesting thing is, in our post genre world, where people borrow heavily from unrelated genres, and where so much commercial (and indie) pop music is cut and paste, this record has become oddly prescient. I doubt any of these current taste-makers have listened to this record, but somehow Bungle saw the future.
This is, in my humble and completely uninformed opinion, the greatest pop record of the 1990s. (This means nothing, as I don’t listen to ’90s pop.) An absolute masterpiece and an amazing way for them to go out.
2020: The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo (6?/10)
I have listened to this once or twice but not reviewed. I also saw them live this summer and they mostly just performed this (with joke covers in between). It is nearly the same record as their demo with a slight change in track listing and performed by the three original members of Bungle (who are 35 years older) along with members of Slayer and Anthrax. It is produced much better than the original demo.
I know they did this on purpose. It is the most Bungle thing they could do, I guess. But I like the Bungle of their studio albums and I always imagined a reunion would chart a new course entirely.