By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Leave it to ex-Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton to give a new meaning to the saying "beating a dead horse." The guy who's pop-cult fame was bound by wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with images of Jesus masturbating (that had to be airbrushed out of the band's Spin cover shoot) and flipping around at the MTV Video Awards (like the fish out of water in FNM's "Epic" video) has been a cult figure for most of the 1990s due to his so-called adventurous projects and vocal abilities. The monstrously overrated Mr. Bungle disguised its flailing antics as art-rock experimentation, but it's really nothing more than the sort of idiot savant territory that genuine pranksters like Happy Flowers and early Half Japanese achieved with more wild abandon. Patton simply added thrash metal and a loner high school student's idea of surrealism to the mix and had record-store clerks and twentysomething fans of Zappa calling him a genius. Somehow, Patton got under the skin of the usually more impenetrable John Zorn, who released two Patton solo projects on his Tzadik label--Adult Themes for Voice and Pranzo Oltranzista--that are considerably more interesting. Patton indeed has an impressive voice, but he chooses to wield it like the proverbial toddler with a machine gun.
It looks like Patton has taken his association with Zorn as a license to cop his back catalog. On the new release of Patton's latest group, Fantômas, he takes the on-the-fly pastiche of Zorn's Naked City and combines it with the improviser-cum-composer's The Big Gundown interpretation of Ennio Morricone's film scores. The Director's Cut features a flexed muscle of a lineup--Patton on vocals and keyboards, bassist Trevor Dunn, drummer Dave Lombardo and guitarist Buzz Osborne--that plows through 16 interpretations of film scores in under 39 minutes. Where Zorn recognized narrative layers in the film score to create a truly cinematic aural space, Patton's m.o. is all about the wry joke. Almost everything gets the speed-meets-black metal treatment, and it's about as subtle as a colonoscopy.
What's even more frustrating is that this process doesn't really transform the music in any rewarding manner. The basic arrangements aren't altered, simply manhandled. Potentially interesting pieces such as Christopher Komeda's theme for "Rosemary's Baby" or Jerry Goldsmith's piece for "The Omen" aren't enriched or made more sinister by the treatment, and some are just mangled. Their terrorizing of Angelo Badalamenti's score for "Twin Peaks--Fire Walk With Me" sounds like a frog choking on a duck.
Given the way this project looks on paper, though, it could've been a real jugular cut. But King Buzzo's day job with the Melvins and Crom's The Cocaine Wars: 1974-89 hit this nail on the head better and with a more wicked sense of humor. And it leaves you wanting to send this disc back to Patton telling him exactly what to do to himself--and the horse he rode in on.