Deftones - White Pony
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There have been times when I’ve been reluctant to admit to merely liking the Deftones, much less to loving them. I am unable to count the sheer volume of instances in college that my indie-rock friends would hassle me about listening to “that nu-metal shit” when what I should really be getting into was Modest Mouse. I’d try to defend the ‘tones, but never really succeeded because my snobby art friends had a valid point: the Deftones are one of the major reasons that dime-a-dozen nu-metal bands like Taproot and Drowning Pool exist today. What my friends never did was give the Deftones’ 1995 debut album, Adrenaline, a fair listen, all they cared about was that they had read somewhere that along with Korn’s debut, Adrenaline had spearheaded the rap rock neanderthal movement so prevalent in radio and MTV rotation today. Never mind that the majority of Adrenaline had some truly original, abstract, and even stunning moments on it in addition to the songs that were to become nu-metal forefathers; the Deftones had toured with Limp Bizkit and that was enough to write them off forever in terminally hipster circles. I hated the fact that they toured with Limp Bizkit too, but stood doggedly by the music just wishing that someone who didn’t wear Adidas shell-toes would give it a chance.
My wish did not come true with 1997’s Around the Fur, their second release, although by that time they had moved far, far away from the low end formulaic heavy grooving of Korn and Bizkit. The Deftones still did not yet quite sound like a fully self-realized band on Around the Fur, but they also by this point didn’t sound like much of anything else I’d ever heard in heavy music- maybe a little Quicksand and Helmet, a dash of Faith No More, but mostly Deftones. They rocked intelligently and loudly, which was enough for me. My friends continued to snub their noses, preferring to make up words to Trans Am songs. I let them be, knowing that the next Deftones album was going to be something special.
I twiddled my Deftones-loving-thumbs until 2000, when they finally released White Pony. I eagerly put it in the stereo, and by the time that the opening track was 30 seconds into the song, I was already smiling. By the time I’d finished listening to it all the way through, I was positively gloating on the inside. They’d finally done it; here was an album that was undeniably innovative, frequently amazing, and indisputably unlike nu-metal.
The intro track, “Feiticiera,” sets the tone with a piercing ripsaw guitar line, closely followed by some beautifully obtuse drumming courtesy of Abe Cunningham, who on this album cements himself as one of the most inventive and proficient drummers in rock music. Chino Moreno’s vocals are intense from the start, and are instantly recognizable as the classic vodka-tinged singing and growling present on the first albums. The lyrics, abstractly alluding to a violent kidnapping that is symbolic of love, promise content much more mature than any previous output. The ferocity of “Feiticiera” gives way to “Digital Bath,” perhaps the strongest track on the album. It is not quite like anything previously created by the Deftones. It has a heavy feel, but is also lush and spacy, due in large part to the atmospheric ambient backdrop provided by DJ Frank Delgado. The star of “Digital Bath,” though, is Chino. “You move - like I want to /To see - like your eyes do,” he croons in the beginning, sounding like both a stalker and a lover. The chorus does little to clarify things; when Chino belts out “Tonight / I feel like more” he does it with a yearning conviction that indicates there may be no difference at all between feelings of love and the desire to have total control over your lover. Suffice it to say that these are themes that I doubt can be found on the latest Adema album.
I found myself wondering on my first listen if the rest of the album would be able to live up to the quality of the opening tracks, and I was rarely disappointed. “Elite” is the most metal-sounding song on the album, with an industrial strength bombast and a churning guitar riff, accompanied by Chino snarling “you’re into depression / because it matches your eyes” with utter vitriol. “RX Queen” is a moody, liquid piece, and has a superbly metallic outro featuring an interesting synthesis of Delgado on beats and Cunningham on drums. “Knife Party” is a soaring song, made epic by a duet in the bridge with Chino keening over an unnamed female vocalist stretching her vocals to the point of sounding unhuman, and unlike anything I’ve ever heard in music before. “Passenger” is also a duet, this time with Tool’s Maynard James Keenan. I’m sure this is cringe-inducing to many of the indie elite, but the combined vocal styles actually sound perfect together. The song revolves around Maynard playing the role of detached kidnapper/lover, saying “Let the whole world look in / Who cares, who sees anything.” Chino plays the part of the equally detached victim, imploring “this time, won’t you please drive faster?” and then at the end “go and go and don’t just / drive me home then back again,” hinting that it’s happened before and once again subtly alluding to themes of control and pure need in relationships.
The other track that needs to be mentioned comes at the halfway point of the album. Simply and aptly titled “Teenager,” the song is a definite stylistic break for the Deftones. Consisting of Chino softly singing over a basic, tender guitar line and a stuttering percussive backdrop, the song has no reference points from the Deftones canon. “Teenager” is a simple and delicate love song, with lyrics like “I climbed your arms / And you pulled away / New cavity moved into / my heart today” doing an excellent job of describing the purity of longing to be found in the teenage years. “Teenager,” although sounding quite unlike everything else on White Pony, serves to complement the overall mood of the album beautifully and rounds out the album perfectly.
White Pony is seething with musical virtuosity and innovation from the first track to the last. The sheer quality and content of the songs serve to put the Deftones years ahead of bands that used to be considered their peers; White Pony easily transcends above any generic labels and deserves to be viewed as something new in rock music. I wasn’t able to convince all of my friends to respect the Deftones, and don’t even think that the album should be considered a classic in indie circles; but the ones that I converted agreed that White Pony was simply excellent music.
By: Tony Van Groningen
Published on: 2003-09-02
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