How does one decipher the conundrum that is Mike Patton?
For example: Patton ends “Mojo”, the catchy-as-hell first single from the self-titled debut album of his long-gestating Peeping Tom project, with the words “Oops, I did it again.” Those are words most commonly associated with Britney Spears, of course, but why would he use them? Is he trying to mock Britney in some not-all-that-obvious way? Is it a quick, cheap laugh? Is he making some kind of reference to the fact that he actually made another album that might, in a perfect world, get played on the radio? Is it his way of saying he can’t actually make what basically amounts to a pop song while taking himself seriously? Or is it entirely coincidental, the logical extension of the song’s chorus, which says “Now fix it up and shoot it again / I can’t believe I did it again” until that moment, where the stray “Oops” seems to make so much difference?
If you’re the type of person that likes to analyze such things, you’re probably just the audience Patton is hoping he attracts with his new album, not to mention the type of audience he’s having a good laugh at. Regardless, however, in most cases, it’s not the words that are drawing the rapt attention of an audience that might not have given Patton the time of day since Faith No More so unceremoniously disbanded, it’s the sound of Peeping Tom. Particularly, it’s the sound of Patton’s voice, a voice that happens to be singing again—not screaming (much), not growling (well, maybe a little), not making sound effects, but actually singing, in a structured sort of way that recalls the Patton they once knew and loved, even if it’s largely through the filter of the nine years of experiments, projects, and guest spots that have happened since that beloved band bit the dust. That he’s still a sardonic, sarcastic type who spouts out lyrics like “I know that assholes grow on trees / But I’m gonna trim the leaves…And you’re still a piece of shit / But I can overlook it today / Because you’re still my friend” is just a bonus.
So yes, it’s true, Patton is writing songs with verses and choruses again, most of which have a decidedly hip-hop bent, even when guitars are involved. This likely has something to do with the high-profile guest stars that crowd the confines of Peeping Tom’s pop vision, at least one of which appears on every single track. Rather than taking over the songs, as guest artists are often wont to do, most of the guests seem to be here for the sake of providing some guidance in the ways of hip-hop production, as with Odd Nosdam and Jel, or for the sake of adding vocal counterpoint, as with Kool Keith, Doseone, and (good God) Norah Jones.
And yes, Norah Jones really does say a naughty word that rhymes with “other ducker”, but once you get done giggling, you’ll realize that her track, called “Sucker”, is the worst on the entire disc, thanks mostly to its all-too-simple structure of intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-end. Whether or not we accept Patton’s approach of dumbing things down for the sake of making “pop” music, “Sucker” is too adolescent and underdeveloped to be noteworthy, even with the presence of Ms. Jones.
In fact, it is this very dumbing down that makes for the worst moments throughout Peeping Tom—besides “Sucker”, “Celebrity Death Match” is a slight, trite excuse to drop names, and despite the fact that Keanu Reeves, Beyoncé, Dirk Diggler, R.Kelly, and Will and Grace (because, y’know, why not?) get mentions (not to mention a really obvious allusion to The Godfather), it’s utterly forgettable. “Getaway” is just as bad, featuring one of the least inspired paranoid Kool Keith ramblings I’ve ever heard, Patton himself reduced to hook-singer / guest-vocalist on what is ultimately Keith’s pointless little song.
Indeed, as much as those short, fairly pointless pieces might be some kind of statement on the mindless, superficial state of pop music and pop culture, any statement Patton might be making gets lost in music that’s simply unexciting. It’s no surprise, then, that Peeping Tom succeeds (and wildly so, I might add) in the songs where Patton allows himself to succumb, if ever so slightly, to his more experimental tendencies. Opener “Five Seconds” gets the spooky, tribal treatment from Odd Nosdam until metal guitars and Patton’s trademarked fast-paced tantrum-style vocals rip the chorus wide open. Massive Attack does some nifty programming, fairly reminiscent of their most recent work on 100th Window except with more emphasis on solid beats and guitars, and Patton croons, soars, and raps his way toward a big, cinematic, climactic finish on “Kill the DJ”. All of this happens in the space of about four minutes—now that’s a pop song.
By the time Dub Trio shows up to team with Patton on a song called “We’re Not Alone”, together creating a chorus that will remind everyone what Faith No More sounded like, it becomes obvious that there’s no looking back anymore for Patton. He’s created such a standard for himself that even as his pure vocal talent shines above pretty much everyone else in the rock world, he still sounds relatively ordinary when he sings a pop-structured rock song, compared to when he’s creating something unique and heretofore unheard of. He’s at his best on Peeping Tom when he accepts this and continues to look forward regardless of his itch to regress.
Because, really, it’s time for all of us to accept it: Faith No More is dead. Mr. Bungle is dead. Long live Mike Patton.
// Notes from the Road
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