Artist: Mr. Bungle
Label: Warner Bros.
Producer: Mr Bungle
Cover art: Arthur Hertz/Wometco Enterprises
NAMED THE WORST album of all time by the NME, who gave it zero out of five stars, there are no half-measures with Mr. Bungle’s sophomore effort. People either love or hate Disco Volante, an uncompromising album that makes the band’s debut sound like the funky pabulum of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
From the opening noise-metal dirge of “Everyone I Went to High School with Is Dead”, it’s clear that we’re in for a heavier ride than the loopy merry-go-round of Mr. Bungle’s previous album. Disco Volante sees the band dive deeper into their seemingly bottomless pool of influences, emphasising their proficiency in death metal and several forms of jazz while exploring Middle Eastern sounds, techno and electronica, cartoon soundtracks, surf rock, musique concrète, and space-age lounge music, often in the space of one song. Yet the album is more focused than its predecessor, the genre-hopping working in service of its compositions.
The album merges multiple genres into grotesque new hybrids. “Carry Stress in the Jaw” blends jazz and death metal seemlessly; saxophone and skittering drums mutate into free-jazz skronk and rapacious riffing while Patton recites lines from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Berenice” through gritted teeth. Like a sped-up horror movie starring Bugs Bunny, “Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz” is both technically dazzling and profoundly ridiculous, its ever-mutating composition featuring spooky organ, skat singing and lashings of surf and metal guitar, painting an exilerating cartoon narrative with sound. The album’s freewheeling compositional approach is best summed up by “Platypus”: a patchwork of different parts which somehow remains a coherent whole, much like the ‘bird-beaked, beaver-butt Australian’ of its title.
Italian for flying saucer, Disco Volante takes the listener on a voyage into the unknown, whether it’s the spiritual quest of “Desert Search for Techno Allah” or the extended suite of “The Bends”: a ten-minute, multi-part soundscape of ethereal beauty and screaming agony, capturing the experience of astronauts and deep-sea divers with decompression sickness. What lies under the surface is not always pleasant, as the dried viper fish on its cover suggests, and Disco Volante explores themes such as death, suicide and domestic violence. “Violenza Domestica”, sung entirely in Italian from the perspective of a brutal patriarch, and its follow-up, “After School Special”, are particularly disturbing. The latter ends with vocals pitch-shifted to sound like a small child, who is alternately giggling and whining while being tickled, at one point asking matter-of-factly, ‘why are you touching me?’ It’s a chilling moment on an album with many a dank, shadowy corner.
Not everything hidden on Disco Volante is quite so dark. The unlisted “Secret Song” features Trey Spruance’s twangy guitar-work – like something out of a swinging sixties spy movie – and Trevor Dunn’s Grandpa Simpson impersonation as he complains about not being invited to play on the tune. The abrupt juxtaposition of styles is often played for laughs – the swift transition into the sprightly bossa nova of “Chemical Marriage” following the foul sludge of “Everyone I Went to High School with is Dead” is as surprising as it is amusing – and Disco Volante’s twists and turns bring to mind the rapid-fire orchestrations of Looney Tunes composer Carl Stalling. The most startling about-face occurs in album closer “Merry Go Bye-Bye”, which switches from cheesy show tune to punishing death metal so quickly that it’ll make you jump out of your seat, evolving into a barrage of electronic chirps and thunderous static before reprising the Vegas schmaltz of its beginning, this time as an emotionally overwrought slow-jam.
Disco Volante is at once exhilarating and troubling, and it’s easy to see why this complex, thematically dense music didn’t go down so well with the Brit-pop enamoured NME. It’s a record that wraps up all the eclecticism and ambivalence of nineties alternative music in a tight package, one full of disconcerting whimsy and wacky horror. Love it or hate it, there’s one thing it’s impossible to do while Disco Volante is playing: that is, ignore it.
- “Everyone I Went to High School with Is Dead” – 2:45
- “Chemical Marriage” – 3:09
- “Carry Stress in the Jaw” – 8:59
- “Desert Search for Techno Allah” – 5:24
- “Violenza Domestica” – 5:14
- “After School Special” – 2:47
- “Phlegmatics” – 3:16
- “Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz” – 6:06
- “The Bends” – 10:28
- “Backstrokin’” – 2:27
- “Platypus” – 5:07
- “Merry Go Bye Bye” – 12:58
Listen on Spotify
Also check out…
- Mr Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny (1986 demo cassette)
- Mr Bungle – Bowel of Chiley (1987 demo cassette)
- Mr Bungle – Mr Bungle (1991)
- Mr Bungle – California (1999)