Mr. Bungle Released Their Final Album, “California”, 20 Years Ago

On this day twenty years ago the final studio album from the wild and weirdly cool, insanely talented Mr. Bungle, California (Warner Bros), was released. At the time it seemed like the band best known as the side project of Mike Patton had long legs as if they would go on to make many more albums afterward. Sadly, it was not meant to be. Still, California holds up today as a strong album and a forebearer of further musical projects all of the members would undertake in the future.

Typically all of the Mr. Bungle albums were abrasive; meant to be confrontational and divisive. You were a Bungle fan or you weren’t. No middle ground. Blending and even more vast array of styles than ever before by this or any other band, California trades in Metal, Ska Punk, Doo-Wop, Folk Music, Latin-Jazz, Pop Music, Surf Rock, Circus Music, Psychobilly, Thrash Metal, Lounge Music, Exotica, Space Age Pop, Jazz Rock, Avant-Garde Music, Lounge Act Torch Songs, world-music, and music influenced by science fiction, spaghetti western and horror film scores. Many times each song would flit back and forth seamlessly to other genres within the same section or verse even, but always seemed to make sense musically if you could follow along.

The album is short at under forty-five minutes, but it’s a tour-de-force or playing and performing. ‘Sweet Charity’, None of Them Knew They Were Robots’, ‘Retrovertigo, ‘Ars Moriendi’, ‘Pink Cigarette’, and ‘The Holy Filament’ are just some of the highlights.

Of course, the album was off to an ominous start when it was bumped by their label due to a coincidentally similar title to The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication. This flamed a war of words between Patton and Anthony Keidis that spilled into the press and even cost Bungle thousands in lost revenue from tours and festivals they were allegedly kicked off due to the feud. In classic form, the band performed as the Chilis on Halloween 1999, in costume and covering RHCP hits. This was epic trolling before social media ever existed.

The band may have already been fracturing by this time even though they would perform for several more years off and on. Their last performance ever was in Nottingham, UK in 2000, although they didn’t formally announce a split until 2004. Patton was already disillusioned with the music business, having founded Ipecac Recordings earlier in the year, so chances are this band would be no big loss to him personally. While Trey Spruance and Trevor Dunn have worked with Patton again, they have all dismissed ideas of getting back together. Other members have said publicly they would like to return but who knows if it will ever happen. Other projects Patton, Spruance, and Dunn have had since all have the DNA of Bungle in them so that will have to be enough. In the meantime, go back and listen to this weird little feral animal that is California today.

KEITH CHACHKES