Mike Patton's "pop" project Peeping Tom kept fans waiting for a really, really long time. Consequently, the four years between its inception around 2002 and fruition in 2006 were a gestation period for urban-legendary speculation about the release to flood the public consciousness. Was he really working with Norah Jones? What did he mean by "radio-friendly pop record"? Given the thrashing, acidic nature of Patton's other projects like Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, and Tomahawk, nobody expected this album to be "Mike Patton Sings the Top 40," and most fans figured the notoriously enigmatic musician was just doing what we pay him to do: messing with us. But Peeping Tom actually does make a pretty good case for itself as pop music. The band might be better characterized as an alt-hip-hop project, but in the end, it's a Mike Patton creation -- it resists categorization. On "Mojo," the album's first single, gangsta-style squealing synths and reverb bass push ahead while Patton embraces a slicker and smoother take on his trademark blend of clean vibrato, nasally tension, and belting clarity. This is not any kind of rock-rap that's been heard before; it bears no likeness to Limp Bizkit or even Faith No More. This track is also as good a place as any to discuss the open mockery that pervades the record, deriding the very style it embraces through moments where it cartoonishly veers into musical caricature, or drops in lyrical references to known R&B-style pop songs. When Patton sings "Roll it up and smoke it again/Bottoms up and drink it again/Fix it up and shoot it again/I can't believe I did it again," he is keenly aware of how it sounds for such an avant-garde songwriter as himself to recite such perfect rock & roll clichés. Circumventing any possible debate on this topic, Patton literally quotes Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did It Again" as a postscript on the track.
All of this should come as no shock: if Patton is anything, he's self-aware. He knows exactly what he's doing when he gets VH1-friendly songbird Norah Jones to sing "The truth kinda hurts, don't it motherfucker?" on "Sucker," and he knows just how mockingly clever it comes off when he sings "I know that assholes grow on trees/But I'm here to trim the leaves" on "Don't Even Trip." Of course, all this smirking could be interpreted as Patton acting cooler-than-thou about the modern musical landscape, but on closer inspection, Peeping Tom is too fastidiously crafted to be a mere middle finger aimed at the mainstream music scene. Look a little deeper, and you'll notice that Patton seems to be poking fun at himself as well, pointing out that the cult acclaim and indie cred he's garnered in his own corner of the industry are really no more meaningful than the commercially driven teen pop stardom that's so often thought to be his very antithesis. Peeping Tom is certainly Patton's most accessible work since Mr. Bungle's 1999 album California. On that record, he often baited you with a clever hook before shocking your system with an abrupt left turn. Patton confuses the senses here in just the same way, and proves that we still love him for it.