Mike Patton, often championed by a very vocal minority, can be a tough artist to become acquainted with. As the lead singer of Faith No More, Tomahawk, Fantomas, Mr. Bungle, Lovage, Mondo Cane, and Peeping Tom, it can be hard to find a good place to begin listening. As esoteric as some of his music may appear, there’s a reason why he has earned his heralded status. With any luck, this guide will serve as a roadmap to Patton’s weird, experimental, prolific and intimidating discography.
THE REAL THING, Faith No More’s first album with Mike Patton as singer. This album made a huge splash when it first appeared thanks to singles “Epic” and “Falling to Pieces.” THE REAL THING is notable for its willingness to experiment with genre. The aforementioned “Epic” mixes rap and hairmetal to wonderful results. The experimentation here isn’t obtuse or off-putting. Apart from the singles, the album works really well together as a whole and would later influence a host of other (somewhat misguided) bands. This possible gateway serves as a good introduction to Mike Patton’s vocal delivery; while he would croon and scat in later albums, THE REAL THING offers some of his most accessible work. Standout tracks: “Epic,” “Falling to Pieces,” and “From Out of Nowhere.”
The next logical step is forward a few years to Faith No More’s second album with Patton, ANGEL DUST. ANGEL DUST has many of the hallmarks of Mike Patton’s work: ever-changing vocal deliveries, strange lyrics, songs that blend genres in the space of seconds. One critic even cited Faith No More’s followup to THE REAL THING as “one of the more complex and simply confounding records ever released by a major label.” With that said, ANGEL DUST is at times strange, but it also packs really strong melodic hooks to make all the weirdness all the more accessible. The lead single, “Midlife Crisis,” was not the hit that “Epic” was, but it provides a decent enough hook that it promoted the album well during its release. The international release of this album showcases the cover of Commodores’ “Easy,” whose tongue-in-cheek delivery is both silly and reverent. Standout tracks: “Midlife Crisis,” “Easy,” and “Land of Sunshine.”
If you enjoyed both THE REAL THING and ANGEL DUST, the remaining two albums in the band’s catalog (KING FOR A DAY, FOOL FOR A LIFETIME and ALBUM OF THE YEAR) are enjoyable, but not quite as consistent as these past entries. They find complications in the band’s lineup affecting its output: Founding guitarist Jim Martin left the band, opening a guitar-player hole that was never quite filled and Mike Patton and keyboardist Roddy Bottum both became increasingly involved in side-projects.
While Faith No More secured Mike Patton commercial and critical success, his original high-school band Mr. Bungle is what many fans claim to be his best work. Unlike with Faith No More, the best place to start with Mr. Bungle is their very last release: CALIFORNIA. I recommend CALIFORNIA as being the next step after Faith No More because it sounds like the band’s logical evolution after ANGEL DUST, and boy is it a whirlwind of creativity. This album is filled so many ideas and so much instrumentation that it will be confusing or intimidating for anyone not already somewhat acquainted with Mike Patton’s musical style. CALIFORNIA finds the band at its most accessible. Songs like “Retrovertigo” and “The Holy Filament” even sound as if they could have appeared on a Faith No More record. From the laid-back beach tune “Sweet Charity,” to the Armenian-Polka-Metal “Ars Moriendi,” to the Italian-film-inspired “Pink Cigarette,” CALIFORNIA has unimaginable breadth. Mr. Bungle’s prior two albums follow this vein, but before moving in this direction, I would recommend trying out more of Patton’s accessible work. Standout tracks include: “Pink Cigarette,” “Vanity Fair,” and “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.”
Another fantastic avenue to try after Faith No More is Patton’s recent MONDO CANE. Finally fulfilling a long-promised passion project, MONDO CANE is a live album of orchestral Italian pop-hits from the 40’s-60’s. Sounds esoteric, right? The album doesn’t flirt with the bizarre; instead, it focuses on the melodies and the beautiful instrumentation of these songs. While none of the songs are in English, the album is full of catchy tunes that put Patton’s vocal range on display. This willingness to try out new ideas and concepts has marked his career. Standout tracks include: “Senza Fine,” “Deep Down,” and “Il Cielo in Una Stanza.”
Also somewhat recently, Mike Patton attempted a pop album under the name Peeping Tom. His first release under this moniker, PEEPING TOM, has many really good, catchy tracks. Influenced by pop, rap, and R&B, these genres are given the Mike-Patton-treatment. Notably, this album is a collection of collaborations with other artists (Norah Jones, Massive Attack, Dan the Automator, etc…). This selftitled debut may attempt to be a pop album, but it isn’t quite mainstream or ready-for-radio. Instead, the songs focus on delivering catchy melodic hooks and beats. Highlights of PEEPING TOM are the Norah Jones duet “Sucker” and the Dub Trio mixed “We’re Not Alone.”
If you’ve made it this far, chances are you will enjoy most of what Mike Patton has to offer. Here are the highlights and some gateways to his other bands:
DISCO VOLANTE, Mr. Bungle’s sophomore album finds itself often bizarre and avant-garde (even more so than CALIFORNIA). The songs here do not have the same pop sensibilities as CALIFORNIA; it’s less immediate but just as rewarding. While I consider this to be one of Mike Patton’s best efforts, I cannot stress enough that this is not an album for the beginning listener. Much of the music here is more abstract, often including dissonance, strange time signatures, and awkward song-organization. Standout tracks are “Carry Stress in the Jaw” and “Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz.”
Fantomas is Mike Patton’s avant-garde metal band. The best introduction to his body of worth with the band is THE DIRECTOR’S CUT. THE DIRECTOR’S CUT is a collection of horror movie film-score covers. The band is heavier and more frantic than Mike Patton’s other work, but this is a great place to start listening. Standout tracks are “The Godfather Theme” and “Fire Walk With Me (Twin Peaks).”
A collaboration with Jennifer Charles and Dan the Automator brought the world Lovage. Their sole album Lovage: MUSIC TO MAKE LOVE TO YOUR OLD LADY BY has been discontinued, but it lives on in MP3 format. Marked by corny and cheesy songs of seduction, many of the electronic-tinged songs are worth listening to. The smokey voice of Jennifer Charles works great alongside Mike Patton. Standout tracks are “Lifeboat,” and “To Catch a Thief.”
Another interesting collaboration is the three-album run by the band Tomahawk. Working with Duane Denison, Mike Patton serves primarily as vocalist (the creative control of the band lies with Denison). Their selftitled TOMAHAWK is mostly good, and it gives a good showcase of Patton as the leader of an alternative rock band (similar to Faith No More). Standout tracks are “101 North” and “Flashback.” The other two albums from the band (MIT GAS and ANONYMOUS, an album composedly entirely of native-American folk songs) are both solid efforts as well, but they never quite live up to the work of Faith No More.
There are other collaborations/projects that are worth exploring, but the above mark the most significant. A one-off collaboration with composer John Kaada, ROMANCES, is a strange, atmospheric and avant-garde album. A one-off EP with math-rock band Dillinger Escape Plan, IRONY IS A DEAD SCENE, is short, but well regarded amongst most hardcore fans. And finally, in later years, Mike Patton has gotten around to composing for films. Two of his most recent scores, Crank: High Voltage and the Solitude Of Prime Numbers, are completely different from one another but offer interesting moments.
Spots to Avoid:
Because Mike Patton can be so experimental, some of his projects don’t quite pan out. These following albums are only for enthusiasts:
Solo album ADULT THEMES FOR VOICE. This entire album was recorded while on tour in various hotel rooms. You won’t find much here besides screaming, nonsense lyrics, and scatting. It will try the patience of the deaf.
Fantomas’s DELIRIUM CORDIA is one track long. It’s only one track, but it’s one track that is as long as a full-length album. The concept behind DELIRIUM CORDIA is surgery without anesthesia. Much of what made Fantomas interesting and exciting is missing here and replaced with spooky ambiance.
The one-off collaboration, Maldoror’s SHE. This is a experimental noise record. Not noise-rock, just noise. Lots of cartoon sounds, echoes, sirens, electronic bleeps. It gets pretty grating at times.