The Mike Patton Corner: Mr. Bungle’s Bowel of Chiley
In the year 1985, some kids in Eureka played a 20-minute set for their high school talent show. Their erratic and spirited performance consisted mostly of covers, and took place underneath an enormous banner that read “Bister Mungle.” Many bands would choose such an opportunity to play songs that get people on their feet, classic staples of rock and perhaps an original or two to win over some new fans. This one played an incoherent death metal version of Mötley Crüe’s Shout At The Devil, the theme songs from The Monkees and Howdy Doody, and a ska number entitled “Skinhead Stomp.” According to an interview with Mike Patton, this was Mr. Bungle’s first ever live performance.
Two years later, after getting their aggression out on their first tape, Bungle recorded a second demo that would much more effectively demonstrate their wild sense of humor and eclectic taste than their first. That tape was 1987’s Bowel of Chiley, which in 1991 would be rereleased into stores without the band’s permission with the erroneous title “Bowl of Chiley.” This version also contained additional songs and an alternate track list, which I believe led to many songs being mislabeled. The version I found was definitely a little off on the song titles, judging by what I could hear in the lyrics. Bungle’s evolution from Raging Wrath to Chiley is drastic; the band was eager to branch out from their speed metal roots into more something more ambitious and dynamic. In fact, Faith No More guitarist Mike Bordin has stated that his enthusiasm for Bungle’s change in sound on this tape was part of what convinced Patton to audition to be their singer.
Chiley begins with an intro appropriately titled For No Reason. The track is a collage of overlapping gibberish vocals and screams. There’s some moaning, some yells of “CUNT! FUCK!”, but mostly the kind of nonsense that strongly reminds me of the end of the song Don’t Laugh, I Love You by Bungle’s cult band contemporaries Ween. My suspicion when going into this experience was that Mr. Bungle would experiment more with ska. I did not expect the first proper song to be a straight up reggae instrumental, complete with a harmonizing horn section. Recorded on cassette, the rough aesthetic makes this track sound so much like something that would’ve been recorded by some unknown Jamaican group in the 70’s that I thought it might be sampled, at least until it ended up transitioning into a manic ska punk cover of It’s A Small World After All. I was thrilled to hear some much more audible bass this time around, the recording quality is slightly better than their last tape and it allows the low ends to come through much more clearly. It’s good that the production is more dynamic, as bass is one of the most important elements of many of the genres Bungle toy with on this tape, which include reggae, soul, and funk. Patton claims that at the time of Mr. Bungle’s forming, he worked at the only record store in his hometown of Eureka, California. According to him, he would order records from genres like dub and avant-grade jazz just so he could take them home and bootleg them to show his bandmates, before returning them to the store and attempting to sell them. His insatiable hunger for different kinds of music became one of the most defining characteristics of his writing, and it’s great to hear the earliest examples of his wide-reaching interests.
Though my version has a different title, the next track is what I suspect to be Nicotina, an 8 and a half minute song about a 19-year-old girl who is addicted to cigarettes. It begins with some minor key ska, with some jazzy chords thrown in for good measure, and the perspective Mike Patton is singing from sounds to me like a greasy older man who’s observing, and eventually propositioning this young girl. Patton does an excellent job at selling this character with his nasally vomit-rock vocals and “soulful” Cookie Monster growls, despite the fact that the girl he’s singing about is actually older than he was at the time of this recording. After the first verse we get a groovy funk passage with a nice bass line. Slap bass embellishments are clearly overdubbed on top, a trick employed several times throughout the tape. The lyrics paint a dark portrait of addiction, as Patton bellows:
“Why did you get started?/Was it just to be cute?
I told you to stop, are you addicted, stubborn/Or just a dumbhead stupid fool?
Now it’s just another part of your life/So ordinary, casual
So sit down with the regulars, line up!/
And have the usual, MOTHA, FUCKIN, mmBEYOTCH”
Once again, Patton’s vocals are very amateurish on this album, but they’re much more colorful and varied this time around, and he seems to be making an effort to improve his technique. As the song goes on, it transforms into a slower, bluesier/jazzier affair, with Patton narrating about sexual fantasies over some horny sax riffs. As the section intensifies, so do Patton’s sneering vocals and the dark lyrics and descriptions of “yellow teeth” and the like. Eventually the song comes to a jaunty ending, with the band in a coughing fit in the last seconds. As Bungle’s first song of this length, it’s a little rough around the edges even discounting the recording quality, but it’s very fun, original, and at times captivating.
After a brief and Zappa-ish horn-led interlude with some chugging metal riffs and what could loosely be described as “gang vocals,” we get an early look at the album’s only track which would end up on their self-titled debut, the demented Carousel. Compared to the slightly faster studio version, Patton’s “announcer” voice is much less prominent and his clean vocals aren’t as strong. The pre-chorus “oh-oh-oh” vocals are delivered with much less precision as well, but Patton still sells the creepiness of the carnival barker narrator. The song definitely underwent some changes over the years, this version doesn’t have the “I think I’m gonna be sick!” line, nor obviously does it contain the iconic lyric “Will Warner Brothers put our record on the shelf?” The song mostly sticks to a ska sound palate (the heavy metal section would be added later), but Patton’s rapid fire lyrics showcase his steady transition from speedily-recited hardcore to the actual full-blown rapping that would add to the character and innovation of his later work. The song clearly has potential, and it’s one of the catchier and more memorable tracks, but it would still take a while to reach its ultimate form.
Next is a revision of the upbeat Evil Satan, which appeared in a more underdeveloped form on Raging Wrath, and comes complete with La Bamba horn lines this time around. The slightly better recording quality brings out a whimsy that could only be hinted at before, bursting to life after a brief new-wavey intro and transitioning from ska into funk and back again on a dime. The vulgar lyrics can be hard to decipher sometimes, but Patton is having so much fun singing this song, and the saxophone briefly goes into nutso free-jazz territory towards the end. It concludes with a classic “big finish,” which isn’t exactly earned given that the track is so short, but this song is still a party.
The next track is erratic, funky, and heavy on the rapping; Chili Peppers on speed rather than heroin. The clean funk chords rage with punk ferocity before ripping into wah-ed out psychedelic solos. Patton is spitting even faster on this track, reminiscent of Bungle’s later song Squeeze Me Macaroni, but with a wilder and more frantic energy. One-note though the song may be, the infectious energy and hilarious vocal delivery mostly justify its short runtime.
The reggae returns on Cottage Cheese, which opens with Patton announcing in bad patois, “BOWEL OF CHILEY, MON.” The highlights of this section are easily Trevor Dunn’s amazing bass line, and the band’s growled chorus of “MIIISTERRR BUUUUNGLE.” The song cuts into a brief moment of thrash before transitioning into a blues rock jam with some jazzy drums and improvised guitar solos, as well as Patton’s falsetto scatting and chants of “Potato, potato, potato, Mr. Potato Head!” This tape contains some of the earliest examples of Patton’s non-lyrical vocals, something he would become infamous for down the road. A pick scratch then ushers in the next heavy metal section, where Patton sings passionately about not liking cottage cheese, and it rages briefly before burning itself out in a chaotic finish. It’s definitely one of the funniest tracks, despite its gimmicks.
The soul and 50’s rock-inspired You Can’t Make Me Mad sees Patton growling and “ooh-ahh-ooh”ing over a chord progression similar to Should I Stay Or Should I Go. After about half of the song’s short duration, it kicks into double time and Patton starts going wild. The track is as brief as it is manic, but it makes me wish they had stuck to the slower section for longer. When Bungle developed the patience to keep to a more traditional structure, it led to tracks like 1999’s incredible doo-wop number Vanity Fair, but the band were still young and restless on Chiley and it shows in tracks like this.
The next song features more strained clean vocals with rapid delivery, more energetic slap bass and dissonant guitar, more sudden transitions into slower sections, and as Patton whispers at the beginning, “Trey’s lyrics.” By this point there’s really nothing on this song we haven’t heard before, and it ends up being something of a lull that fades out in a really unsatisfying way.
Things pick back up a bit on the swaggering Freight Train, another overtly sexual song with a funk/reggae-tinged rhythm. Non-lyrical hooks abound in this track, as Patton “oh-oh-oh”s and “chugga-chugga-chugga”s through the first half. The vocals and instruments come together for a short section of herky-jerky syncopation before exploding into a thrashier section that actually features a wooden train whistle. This track stands out if only for its more gimmicky moments, and the second half is definitely stronger than the first.
No Strings Attached switches back and forth between Dead Milkmen-style riffs and the tape’s standard brand of speedy ska. In the last minute it transitions into the punk rock rager Fart In A Bag, which also fades out before it has a chance to really get going. These tracks are fun enough, but the tape has definitely started to lose steam by this point. I didn’t expect these demo tapes to be as finely-tuned and ambitious as Bungle’s studio albums, but for a band so eclectic and whose best work is brimming with possibility, it’s disappointing to hear a project where they start to run low on ideas.
Thankfully, the final track Walkin’ In Circles does not disappoint. The star of the show on this one is drummer Jed Watts, his fills are really fun and nimble and the track has an excellent groove. It also contains one of the tape’s catchiest refrains, Patton soulfully wails “Why don’t you leave my ass alone?” as the track bounces along. The second half of the chorus switches to a breakneck pace, and then suddenly the track is over. A fittingly silly end to an extremely strange project.
While Bowel of Chiley is another tape that doesn’t come close to Bungle’s studio work in terms of ambition, fidelity, and eclecticism, it was a major leap forward for the band’s sound and definitely an improvement on Raging Wrath. It honestly wouldn’t suck to hear the band perform songs like Nicotina or Cottage Cheese should they choose to revisit them like they have their earliest compositions, because this tape oozes personality and potential. Still though, many things hold this tape back from being a uniformally enjoyable listen. It drags at the end, the lyrics aren’t particularly clever, and they stagnate a bit in the ska sound much like they did with death metal.
After much deliberation, I give Mr. Bungle’s Bowel of Chiley a 5.5/10.
Best Tracks: Nicotina, Carousel, Cottage Cheese