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Peeping Tom | review | rock | Lollipop
by Tim Den
Ever since its announcement years ago, Mike Patton fans have been salivating at the arrival of Peeping Tom. With every rumor and production snag, the anticipation grew stronger. This was Patton's somewhat return to "accessible" music, after all, a chance for his worshippers to once again bath in the unique croon that made the world his at barely 20 years-old. Was it gonna be like "Evidence?" "Stripsearch?" Or maybe even California? I myself was certainly hoping for an Album of the Year vibe, combined with perhaps "Retrovertigo." Was the project gonna blow our minds or let us down?
At first glance, it seemed more like the latter (believe it or not). Years in development, Peeping Tom's first impression was, "Hey, this sounds like a tamer version of General Patton Vs. The X-ecutioners. Or a more playful Lovage." Not bad comparisons, but no heaven-splitting achievement either. I guess I expected pop catchiness that wasn't so integrated with an overall hip-hop vibe; hooks that didn't stay so close to the bluesy darkness prevalent on the other aforementioned Patton projects. Plus, there seemed to be hints of lyrical cheesiness abound: "I know that assholes grow on trees/but I'm gonna trim the leaves"? "Our love is like a Starbucks chain/we're taking over this town"? And the worst: A reference to "Oops!... I Did it Again"?!? What happened to the Patton who strung together nonsensical vocabulary for their phonetic punch, and in the process, managed to convey unintentional lyrical brilliance? I know Peeping Tom is supposed to be overly commercial and tongue-in-cheek, but had Patton left behind his sense of judgment as well?
Thankfully, after a few spins, the disappointment turned into a smiling face. For every bad pun, there's a golden line ("We're sipping on martinis/slurping on linguini/scoping out bikinis") and a shitload of insane vocals-as-innovative-percussion (chorus of "Five Seconds"). For every resemblance to General Patton Vs. The X-ecutioners and Lovage, there's a realization of WHO THE FUCK CARES??? Peeping Tom's songs grow roots into your brain, slowly winning over your subconscious, even though you keep trying to tell yourself "I've heard this before." And maybe that's the beauty of it: By fooling you into dismissing it as a rehash of Patton's past works - and then winning you over - it almost parodies the way bland mainstream radio tricks you into eating it up, despite the fact that you know it's just regurgitated garbage. The difference being, of course, that Peeping Tom's songs are actually good, despite their less-than-original anatomy.
Opener "Five Seconds" rides along a repeating deep funk bass line while ominous keys in the background shift chords, kind of like "¡Get Up, Punk! 0200 Hrs. (Joint Special Operations Task Force)," sure, but still fucking rad! And who can resist hearing Norah Jones purr "motherfucker"? The best, though, comes at the very end in the form of "We're Not Alone (Remix)." An alternate mix to the version found on Dub Trio's new album New Heavy, it's the record's only moment involving a "live band" setting, and for five-plus minutes, all the years of waiting was more than worth it. With verses that sound like Album of the Year-era Faith No More and a chorus that resembles Tomahawk's "Rape This Day," the song dips and soars with Patton's voice as the pilot. The notes he hits aren't death-defying or technically spectacular, but they strike a nerve the way Angel Dust and California inspired every molecule in your body. You almost have to sit back and let out a big breath after listening to it, because it tires you out from sheer excitement.
Don't let first impressions fool you: Peeping Tom, although nothing groundbreaking, is a pop record only Mike Patton could produce, and that should be enough for you to trust that it is good. No one else quite knows how to evoke creepiness with barely sentimental-sounding melodies like the God of Voices. No one else knows how to counter accessibility with weirdness this perfectly. The wait was not in vain.