Looking Back on: Not the Target Demographic: Mike Patton

(I discovered this in my review of old articles written for Beyond the Threshold, and realized that I don’t actually have this in my archive of documents, so I’m jumping ahead a bit, once again, to make sure this gets written up, since it’s one of the most hated pieces I’ve ever written, and it deserves its due.)

So it was on my third listen to Peeping Tom that I came to a rather disagreeable realization: Mike Patton isn’t really anywhere as good of a musician as everyone gives him credit for. (Way to bury the lead dude.)

For those who either don’t know or don’t remember, Patton was the frontman for Faith No More, a rock act from the 90’s. Now, I do not think it would honestly be at all fair for anyone to denigrate what Patton accomplished while in Faith No More. He is absolutely a talented vocalist and reasonable songwriter, and with some degree of direction, he’d easily be one of the greatest musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries, period. (He’s also reasonably talented as a musician on his own merits, all in all, and he’s been called the most versatile singer in music, which is probably not an exaggeration, all things considered.)

That said, I completely missed Faith No More when they were popular. My exposure to them came a few years after the fact, through friends who remembered them fondly, and while I appreciate the music, I didn’t “get it” to the same effect everyone else seemed to, mostly because the band had long since broken up and there was nothing to really get excited about anymore. (I’ve since changed my mind on that stance, mostly because they do have a pretty solid back catalog, though I still maintain much of the remaining stance.)

Which is essentially the problem, I find. See, since I wasn’t a huge dedicated Faith No More fan, I wasn’t jonesing for more Patton goodness, which might explain why I have no appreciation for his later efforts. That said, Patton more or less seems to openly get off on the idea that his fans are dying to listen to something that, for whatever reason, he is unwilling to provide, so he continues to tease them with the same pseudo-artistic bullshit instead of actually, you know, MAKING MUSIC. (I think it’s more just that he’s just a crazy workaholic who loves making music, just not Faith No More, though recent reunions would seem to contradict this stance somewhat.)

I guess if you’re rich, you can do whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good.

But plenty of people whack off to his music like he’s some kind of visionary in the world of aural entertainment. (John Lennon is another musician that gets similar treatment that I don’t get; while I’ll touch on this a bit later, I will say that I basically love Adam Tod Brown for saying more or less what I’ve said for years, but on a much larger stage than I ever have.) The man has been in FOUR “bands” in the time between Faith No More’s break up and now, each more absurd than the last. (To be fair, Mr. Bungle was probably the most absurd of the lot, though Fantomas and Tomahawk come close.) Mr. Bungle was a band highlighted by people who were obviously talented trying to make music while Patton stuck thirty second long static effects and sound samples of people having sex dead in the middle of songs. (I have no actual proof Patton was the person who did that, though I will note that they had an intense feud with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, because Anthony Kedis has a tiny penis, metaphorically speaking, and Mike Patton has absolutely zero tolerance for anyone’s bullshit, so there’s that.) Fantomas was Patton making horror music by substituting synthesizers with mouth effects, for lack of a better way to describe it, FOR NO DISCERNIBLE REASON. (To be fair that was only two albums; the third album was a concept project about having surgery with no anesthesia, while the fourth was about cartoon noises and weird holidays. Mike Patton is a weird dude.) Tomahawk was some sort of a middle-ground between the two, where he simply made weird music for the hell of it. (They’ve since released an album, Oddfellows, which is described as being something akin to approachable, and isn’t bad, all in all. The stuff before it though, yikes.) And now, Peeping Tom, which is Patton kind-of sort-of vocalizing over various techno tracks, or convincing Norah Jones to say “motherf*cker”. Patton says of Peeping Tom, “This is my version of pop music. In a way, this is an exercise for me: taking all these things I’ve learned over the years and putting them into a pop format,” a statement that only makes any sort of logical sense if one has not heard the CD. (Patton is one of those people who has a really good understanding of musical theory, I think, but not a real understanding of how it all works; that is, he understands what goes into making pop music, but when he tries to make it, you get something that has three listenable tracks and a bunch of weird shit. There’s such a thing as being too well schooled, it would seem.)

The man continues to get offers to open for bands like Nine Inch Nails and Tool. He has been offered the role of lead singer by several bands, all of which he outright turned down flat. Fans continue to praise him for his “revolutionary” styles of music and wank off to whatever he makes next, regardless of how absurd or unstructured it might be. (In addition to a story I’ll be telling later in this article about how people tend to react to Patton’s side projects live, my artistic associate Joel Rose went to a Tool concert at one point that was opened by Patton’s project Tomahawk, and he describes the response as “half an hour of confused, uncomfortable silence.” He also related a story about how, at one concert he didn’t attend, Maynard Keenan had to come out and yell at the fans to shut up and show some respect, though I have no proof this ever happened, and include it purely for amusement purposes. To be fair he got the shit booed out of him at a lot of shows, but this was apparently because he insulted the audience so that’s kind of on him.)

Deal with this: Patton’s a fucking hack. (These days I’d say he’s the musical equivalent of Dada, which is also not entirely a compliment.) He makes music that is commercially uninteresting, artistically limited, generally unstructured, and can really only be called “interesting” in the most perverse sense of the word. He has written a very small handful of songs that were enjoyable in the past ten or so years, most of which were recorded under the Mr. Bungle name, and his entire legacy is Faith No More and a bunch of weird bullshit. (Seriously, if you have like half an hour, check out this list of stuff, and realize that the majority of it is crazy, experimental shit.)

Now, one could make the argument (and it would certainly be valid) that Patton is attempting to follow in the footsteps of one John Lennon: part of a wildly successful band, then turned around and did whatever he wanted for years afterward. This is, on its face, a reasonable argument, until one realizes that Lennon, in life:

1.) was part of a HUGELY successful and influential band, a band which is considered amongst the greatest musical acts on Earth,
2.) helped to pioneer the idea of “artsy” music, which opened doors for things like “indy” rock and “progressive” rock,
3.) heavily influenced the development of the modern art movement, and
4.) made music that people hailed as genius, OUTSIDE of the Beatles, that was also commercially successful.

Patton has, at best, touched briefly upon the first one.

Now, if I’m being honest, I can’t stand Lennon, I don’t like “Imagine”, and I hate him for helping modern art become more legitimate, but like him or no, he accomplished a lot and made some influential music. (That’s honestly a bit of an understatement; John Lennon was, by all accounts, an abusive asshole, and Yoko is, also by all accounts, a controlling demon who actively constricts her hold on Lennon’s estate with an iron fist, presumably because she has nothing of value to contribute to the world of art without it. Lennon was a good singer and songwriter, to be certain, but the man basically broke art and music in a lot of respects with his “influence,” and you can love “Imagine” all you want even if it is a super hypocritical song, but you’re never going to convince me it was worth him filming his flaccid penis for half an hour and calling it “art.”) Patton had one really famous musical act, then decided to spend the rest of his career making unstructured music with Daddy Bojangles Pots ‘n Pans band and a keyboard. (Alternately, with his mouth in hotel rooms across the country, which is what Adult Themes for Voice is. Seriously.) At BEST, his legacy is Faith No More. (Also possibly voice acting since he keeps doing it and he’s bound to land on a game that’s popular and features him in a starring role one day.) He has not released one single song outside of that band that anyone who isn’t a Patton fan gave two squirts of piss about, and I would venture to say he never will.

Here’s something I imagine people don’t really want to hear, but it needs to be said: “Experimental” music can attract fans on its own while still sounding good. Off of the top of my head, Spooky Ruben, (HAHAHAHA no seriously fuck that guy though.) Rob Dougan, (Released one record and then went off to go run a winery forever.) OSI, (Still together as far as I know.) Dream Theater, (Definitely still together.) and Emilie Autumn (Still making music, such as it is.) make music that maintains a distinctly experimental and/or progressive bent while still managing to sound something like, you know, MUSIC. (I would also note that a lot of musicians are trying to be more experimental in their work these days, if only because music and the marketing thereof is a lot more complex than it was twenty years ago. I would also note that this was long before I’d begun actively listening to Tom Waits, and honestly, THAT is the guy Patton needs to be patterning himself after.) If Patton were truly as talented as everyone claims, his music outside of Faith No More would be something that people of all sorts could love and enjoy, not just “fans of Mike Patton”. He is never going to write anything as powerful as “Imagine” in his career, and I sincerely doubt he’ll ever get to a point where he even matches his previous successes. “Mojo” is a good song, but it’s not comparable to his previous works, and certainly isn’t worth buying an entire album of messy, unstructured music and concept projects for. (“Mojo” is an okay song, past me, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

Of course, no one really wants to accept this. Fantomas opened for a Tool concert a friend of mine attended, and as Patton got going with his music, someone blurts out an objection to the music (something akin to “What the hell is this shit?”), only to be rebuffed with “Shut the f*ck up, that’s Mike Patton”. (This is the other story I mentioned above, though I may, to be fair, have the lead acts mixed up; this may have opened for Metallica, now that I think about it, but the remainder of the story is accurate.)

So? He wrote “Epic” and “Last Cup of Sorrow”. Congratulations. (Also “From Out of Nowhere,” and “The Real Thing,” off the top of my head, plus his cover of “Easy” is fucking rad as hell.) That doesn’t mean what he is doing now is any good. (In all seriousness, I really feel like the thing Patton has been trying to do for a while now has been done, and better, by acts like VAST, Muse, Tom Waits and Gyote, and while Patton’s clearly enjoying himself on stage, his work isn’t really weird or influential so much as it is just him entertaining himself. I mean, good for him I guess, but he’s not Prince.) I’m happy for you if you happen to like it, guess what? I don’t, and I don’t think I should have to just because he was in one really good band once in his life. And it’s not that I don’t get it… rather, I understand perfectly fine: you want to hear one more REALLY awesome song from Patton before he dies or you do, and if you have to wade around through an hour of static and mouth noises and bossanova beats to get to that song, you’ll do it. Hey, I sympathize, I really do, but if you keep buying his weird shit, HE WILL KEEP MAKING IT. (To be fair I’m pretty positive he’d keep making it even if NO ONE bought it.) He does not care about what you want, and will not attempt to cater to what you might like one final time before he retires. (The Faith No More reunion gigs he’s been playing say otherwise, as does the recent announcement that FNM may, in fact, be releasing a new album.) He’s rich, at this point anything he makes is purely for his own amusement. That one last amazing song is not forthcoming, okay? This is it from here on out. Horror tunes, static and Mr. f*cking Bungle, okay?

Faith No More is dead. Get over it. He did. And you can bet your ass he’s never looking back. (Again, the Faith No More reunion says otherwise.)

(Honestly this was mostly a lot of mid-twenties anger combined with Summer and Joel both basically saying, “Well that would be hilarious,” while I was bitching about it; at this point I still mostly feel like Patton’s wasting his talent, but I don’t really care so much, because fuck man, if he’s happy, let him be happy. He’s talented as hell, just really weird, and I don’t blame him for thinking the music industry is fucking stupid while also exploiting it by releasing weird ass records and opening for more popular bands than whatever his current side project is at the time. I reiterate that he could probably make a lot more artistic progress by emulating the acts I’ve mentioned here instead of the stuff he is doing, but to each their own, and if you enjoy it, hats off to you.)

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