The “My Album / Your Album” dynamic. Sounds like a really odd phrase, but you’ve experienced it: You are suddenly enthralled by this artist or band, you’ve listened to their debut a million times, memorized every word and note and have contributed to their sudden overnight success. Now their sophomore album is being released! You run breathlessly to the store or the computer and grab it up! You listen to it and wait for those waves of satisfaction to wash over you. You listen. You listen. You say…
What the hell is this?!
The old saying is that a band has a lifetime to make their first recording and a year to make the second, so that’s where the “sophomore slump” comes into play. That’s partially true. The other part is that a debut album is in some ways a calculated effort to curry the favor of an audience. It does everything right so far as the industry is concerned, and an artist’s weirder, more fringe tendencies get glossed back with harmonies and reverb. Ah, but on the second album, the gloves are off, the sun is up and the freak flag is flying. If you, newfound fan, had created an opinion based on that first impression, you did so with the assistance of market forces. Now it’s time to meet the real deal and, oh dear, it’s just not the way you pictured it.
That’s how it was for most people when they heard Angel Dust, the album arriving after Faith No More’s breakout smash The Real Thing. It was the band’s fourth but the second with Mike Patton at the microphone and was, in many respects, as much a sophomore effort as any. The dynamic was apparent immediately. Where there was restraint, being the cagey way “Epic” said and didn’t say it was about self-gratification, on Angel Dust things were much more blatant: “Be Aggressive” is an ode to fellatio, pure and simple. “Jizzlobber” is about the guilt that would come (pardon the pun) after the actions presumably taken in “Epic.” Where The Real Thing stayed true to the hard rock structure, even as Patton rapped, Angel Dust had twisted pop, rock, even trailer-park country in the humor vein (“RV”); The former had the Black Sabbath cover of “War Pigs” while the latter had a cover of John Barry’s “Theme From Midnight Cowboy.” Need I go on?
But here’s the thing: Angel Dust is a better album for its diversity even if the gruesome meat market photograph on the back makes me wince. It is a rough ride, no question about it, but there is an overwhelming sense that this is the album the band was born to make. When they had the opportunity, they seized it and shook it to pieces, no half measures. “Kindergarten” didn’t create the rock-rap template that Korn, Limp Bizkit and Papa Roach would repeat into absurdity later down the line, but it certainly delineated it, and those bands that followed the lesson plan would make a whole lot more money too. Yes, this album’s biggest hits, “A Small Victory” and “Midlife Crisis” are fairly well known, but both would be overshadowed by a track that didn’t make it to the final release. The band’s last hurrah in that particular lineup, and their most recognizable effort, was the cover of the Commodores’ “Easy.” After that, guitarist Jim Martin left, a label apparently expecting something more immediate and less artfully damaged exerted pressure, and the result was the mish-mosh known as King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime.Á‚ Did anyone think a song like “Cuckoo For Caca” was a good idea? (A side note: the band’s last effort, Album Of The Year, really redeemed them and is worth your time.)
My friends and I were obsessed with Angel Dust (man, that just sounds so wrong) and adopted Patton’s pitchman phrase as a crack-up point, shouting “Here’s how to order!” for no apparent reason at inconvenient times. No one found it funny, but we thought it was hilarious.
Audiophile nutjobs Mobile Fidelity have just released the album on a super heavy vinyl edition, complete with a gatefold sleeve and assurance that the original masters were used in the process and I believe it. Trust me, a gearhead connoisseur would die laughing at the equipment I’m playing my records with, but the sound is tremendous. It isn’t often that I can say that a CD’s sound has been bested by a vinyl reissue, as I feel the inherent superiority of the record over the aluminum disc is mostly a function of the collector’s need to collect. That’s my admission — most records don’t sound as good as the CD. There’s surface noise, static pops and clicks and you can’t jump up and down when they’re playing. Yet in this case I absolutely hear a difference, and it’s not wishful perception.
The question is whether the album was ever intended to be a vinyl release. Sure, there was a small run in Europe of Angel Dust, but that was a promotional thing of the time and not necessarily meant to present the record in its best possible form. Angel Dust was meant to be a CD; that’s how it was mastered, that’s how the restrictions jibed. That those songs would remaster so well and be represented so nicely on this medium it wasn’t initially intended for speaks to the commitment Mobile Fidelity has put into the product. I’m impressed. What I’m not impressed with is how much money it cost. $40? In the current economy, that stings, but I’m glad to have gotten it anyway.
In recent years, most of the members of the band have faded into obscurity while Patton has gone to co-found Ipecac Records, a label that allows him complete freedom and produces aesthetically interesting work (and just as often produces egocentric noise that only a weasel in heat could appreciate) that doesn’t really do much to retain interest. As much as he wants to disregard those bandmember days, it’s important to note that during those times he produced an album that still outshines a lot of what he’s done since. Now if we can get a re-release of Mr. Bungle’s California as worthwhile as this one, we’ll really be in business.
Next week: What is it about these indie artists, their weird, nonsense band names and their paragraph-long album names? What are they trying to accomplish and, personally speaking, is it backfiring?
And, by the way, the album you’re looking at is Marnie Stern’s This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That. Once you’ve finished reading that, we’ll be all set for next week. See you then!