After participating in hundreds of beer-fueled debates about the hierarchy of different albums made by the same artist, I have come to identify a pervasive phenomenon: fans tend to consider the first album they heard by any given artist that artist's best work. I can still remember my introduction to Mike Patton ten or so years ago. Patton was being interviewed on MTV Europe by a well-coifed metrosexual (although the term hadn't yet been coined). After a few minutes of forced conversation, the ever-snarky Patton threw to Faith No More's new video, "Diggin' the Grave" from 1995's King for a Day ... Fool for a Lifetime. I was so impressed that I procured the album later that week. I would later amass the band's back catalog as well as its subsequent swan song (1997's Album of the Year), but I still consider Fool for a Day Faith No More's crowning achievement, no matter how many people try to persuade me otherwise.
It's not as easy to choose a favorite among Patton's subsequent solo releases, however. Since Faith No More, Patton has had more epochs than China has had dynasties. From 1996's Adult Themes for Voice to his work with jazzbo John Zorn, it seems Patton has made it his mission to educate and perplex onlookers. With Peeping Tom, Patton solidifies himself as the eminent vocal chameleon. Like human beat-box Rahzel (who appears on the first single, "Mojo"), Patton's voice can take on a multitude of guises. From the delicate crooning of "Your Neighborhood Spaceman" to the soulful swagger of "How You Feelin?" Patton's stylings are consistently interesting.
"Mojo" is the most hook-laden song on the album, but the most notable is "Caipririnha." Like an urban-inflected "Girl From Ipanema," Patton's duet with Bebel Gilberto bears the album's most memorable vocal melody. And that's somewhat disappointing, considering the medicinal cleanliness of the other arrangements. Peeping Tom's almost exclusively synth-oriented songs (save the occasional bass and guitar) are ostensibly intended to highlight Patton's voice. This only accentuates his overwrought yet indifferent performances, however. Although Patton continually impresses with vocal feats, his singing lacks the emotive quality of his earlier works that made you wonder if any studio equipment perished in coping with his oral onslaught. And many of the songs seem like an incongruous splice-job of several underdeveloped riffs.
At more than five and a half minutes, "Don't Even Trip" offers a nice reprieve from the bloated excesses of Peeping Tom's more ambitious arrangements, but it's about three minutes too long. The song's bridge does feature one of the album's cleverer lyrics: "And I know assholes grow on trees/ but I'm here to trim the leaves." Patton is no poet laureate, however. A well-known fan of free association, Peeping Tom's lyrics are vague, if not at times incomprehensible: "We're driving Lamborghinis/ and we're sippin' on martinis/ we're slurping our linguini/ but we're spied in our bikinis (from "How U Feelin'?" featuring Doseone).
Suffice it to say, Peeping Tom will not best King for a Day's decade-long reign of dominance in my own personal hierarchy. Based on my hypothesis, nothing ever will. But like the rest of Patton's work, Peeping Tom will be hailed by his legion of loyal disciples. I just hope it's based on the album's merits, not the cult of celebrity Patton has unwittingly amassed.
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