Mr. Bungle's third studio album California was released twenty one years ago on July 13th 1999.
In the year Mike Patton's music took many creative twists and the man of 1000 voices began a journey with Ipecac Recordings, he was part of the third album by Mr. Bungle. This album is arguably Mr. Bungle's greatest, California is certainly one of the singer's most genius works. It is layered with a multitude of genre and styles, perfect instrumentation and loaded with enough intelligent wit not to confuse the listener.
The release of the album was somewhat troublesome and the date, June 8th, was delayed by Warner Bros to avoid confusion in the marketplace with the Red Hot Chili Peppers album Californication (an issue which would have further repercussions).
California was the first studio album not to feature Theo Lengyel who had left the band due to 'creative differences'. Bungle's drummer Danny Heifetz spoke about Theo's absence in 1999, "I miss him. He added a huge chemical imbalance that helped us on the road. He hates us and rightfully so. The music changed, plain and simple. Very little call for saxes, trombone or flute. He was an original member. I'm not. Makes me feel a bit like a union-buster. He once shit in a goldfish bowl on stage."
This album was a seismic shift in style and production just as were the two records before, on California the music was essentially more structured and less chaotic with some traditional song formats. Different themes and genres were explored which led to a much more 'pop' sound in parts whilst still retaining Mr. Bungle's wit and musical expertise. The 'poppy' sounds of the album can often be disconcerting when presented in such an environment. For these reasons alone it possibly makes California the most deliciously strange album in Mr. Bungle's catalogue. Warner Bros released the following press statement in regards to the musical direction of the album,
'California explores an ambiance new to the band, conjuring up the sultry dance moves of Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire; digging through the graveyard of riffs to find English Pop, Elvis, Neil Diamond, and Michael Jackson. The album is sure to alienate those expecting weird meter-changes and heartless vulgarities. To be sure, this is Western music, chockful of backbeats, strings, and vocal harmonies. But like the original 49ers, the listener is headed into a desert land of draught and famine -- the dark side of the California dream.
Topics of charity, gregariousness, and escapism are accompanied by those of suicide, retribution, and apostasy. The band somehow proves to themselves, once again, that they cannot escape their twisted past, or their twisted future. And like Hollywood, the underbelly is glossed over with major chords, sparkling glockenspiels, exotic percussion, fuzz guitars, tears of joy, and plastic smiles. And it's all in Technicolor, breathtaking Cinemascope, and stereophonic sound! Music to be listened to under the warmth of the cancer-inducing sun. It's danceable, it's singable. Grab an umbrella and join the slaughter!'
Not everyone can appreciate eccentric, fore thinking genius at the time and even though California received mostly positive reviews.
'Mr. Bungle's third opus is a wondrous amalgamation of styles that induces memories of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean, days at the beach, doses of hardcore rockabilly, lovable schmaltz and bizarre sound effects.' - CMJ New Music Monthly
'California stitches elements of polka, death metal, campy lounge yoy, and 50's surf into a dense, colorful quilt, and the result is a striking listen.' - Alternative Press
'They're clever buggers, those chaps in Mr. Bungle. For while they specialise in the art of melting brains by composing some of the most twisted music imaginable, one gets the feeling that they are not even trying.' - Kerrang!
...there were also less favourable reviews...
'Such humour is, of course, a tortuously acquired taste, but ‘California’ is an exhilarating release from ‘4 Real’ culture, championing its wit above integrity. Administer sparingly.' - NME
'Mr. Bungle is a prima facie reason as to why artistic freedom isn't necessarily worth all the ink it gets. Revoltingly self conscious and "arty" instead of being "artful", this band is about as useless to the mental and rhythmic well-being of the human soul as a Whitman chocolate sampler would be to a diabetic. Must to avoid doesn't even begin to describe Mr. Bungle's CALIFORNIA.' - LA New Times
Trey Spruance - 1999
"There are a lot of song-ish elements on this album that are missing on our previous records.Those elements on this album will be welcomed by many and hated by many others. Some fans may get mad because we're not playing 'experimental' music. We don't really care. We've made a pact to trust our musical instincts and not worry about people's expectations. We could keep putting out 'weird' records and be pretty comfortable, but that would get a little thin. We want the freedom to try new things and have fun."
"It would have been too easy to make a Disco Volante II. It just happens that, as an unspoken rule, we go to new places with each album. California is not really that 'poppy' in the modern sense - it might be OUR projected fantasy of "pop" music, as it certainly draws on recent decades of popular entertainment. It's true that the album has potential to cross into some of the tastes of the moment, but I'm not holding my breath about any radio airplay. We've been around long enough to know how these things work! We made the album for ourselves and for the people who follow our music."
Trevor Dunn - 2000
When we were mixing our A&R guy from WB came down the the studio to "check out the new stuff". I was upstairs with him playing a mix of Retrovertigo when he suddenly got bored and walked out of the room right in the middle of the song. I was offended to say the least. It became clear to me that the only reason we were still on this major label was because they were hoping for a FNM hit. They wanted to assign a big name producer but we declined due to the fact that they wanted US to pay for it. We certainly had hopes of actually getting some airplay with some of these tunes but WB wouldn't pay for a re-mix, and, of course, did YOU see any promo for California? You have to understand that there ARE ways of manufacturing popularity. You can pay radio stations to play your records like Limp Shitzcup did; you can open up for huge bands that will pay you squat; you can play Ozzfest and PAY to play. Fuck that. We had no interest. We had our core audience who would reliably show up to any shit-hole we played. Someone at WB actually said they they thought we were "close" to having a hit record. The seemed to think that if we made a 4th CD it would be more accessible than anything else we'd done. Oh how little they knew us. Chances are, the 4th would have been 74 minutes of non-stop, unlistenable noise.
Mike Patton - 1999
"We don't usually write linear songs, so this was a challenge for us. If you don't keep challenging yourself, eventually the music you're making, no matter what kind it is, is going to sound contrived."
"With a band like this, it's really kind of boring and methodical. You go through it like surgery -- this detail, then that little part, then a harmony, followed by an effect over a tiny part that lasts two seconds. It's not like fun lovin' rock 'n' roll whisky guys going into the studio, just having a ball, jamming. It's the farthest thing from that you can imagine. It's a bunch of nerds in the studio, twisting knobs."
"You wanna hear irony? You're telling me how straight and palatable it is. With this record, we were closer to being dropped from our label then we have ever been. Figure that one out. If you put it all down on paper, we're not fuckin' No Doubt or Limp Bizkit. We'll never be that. I don't think we'll ever make sense to them. There's gotta be something they are hanging onto. I'm not sure."
"More than anything, that title really sums up sonically what's going on on the record. It's very pleasant at times, and then there are a lot of little disasters that come up and present themselves, then blow over and go away like a storm. I would tend to explain it more like that, rather than, "Oh, California is this very deceptive place; it's bright on the outside and a really dark place on the inside." I mean, let's let the Chili Peppers do that."
Danny Heifetz - 1999
"It was a conscious effort to be more melodic and concise, but it was not guided by any "market planning strategy." It's just something we needed to spiritually flatten our inflated interpretations of today's musical voids, as grossfold as they are these days."
Clinton McKinnon - 2016
"It wasn’t some attempt at reconciling how much we’d previously tortured our audiences with white-noise..No, it wasn’t some conscious attempt to normalise our music or make it all the more palatable for our weary listeners.. It just poured out the way it did and reflected the sophistication we’d cultivated up to that point. We were perhaps more careful to get ‘better’ performances on record, yes. We had every intention of doing our best. We wouldn’t have over-thought the reception of whatever we were doing; if we were into it, that was enough."