Deftones Discography Part 3: White Pony

One of my favorite bands, the Sacramento-based Deftones, are preparing the release of their sixth full-length album, Diamond Eyes, on May 4. In light of this, I am going back, re-listening to, and analyzing their previous albums to gain a perspective of the band’s past while waiting in anticipation of the band’s future.

White Pony by Deftones (Maverick, 2000)

I’ve already said it, but I’ll say it again: most people consider this to be Deftones at their peak.  This is the overwhelming fan favorite, and the album sales reiterated that overall.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that White Pony was released smack dab in the middle of the nu-metal craze, when Fred Durst was king and Cold was successful.  Nowadays, we see most of those bands playing the fair, but at the time, they were the scene, and the Deftones were lumped in with them, even though White Pony is miles better than Issues or Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.

And yet, the record labels always ruin everything.  White Pony was re-issued six months after its initial release, and “Back to School” was added to the track listing – a decision Chino Moreno was not happy with.  It really did ruin the original album’s flow; it was a joke song the band made to prove to the record execs that a “hit” song is too easy to compose.  Of course the plan backfired and the suits loved it – it was released as a single and became a minor hit for the group.  But it’s notable for the simple fact that it’s old-school Deftones – the last rapping we would hear from Moreno, and the final shedding of the old sound from their previous two LPs.

The real opener, “Feiticiera,” is a strong, structured introduction to a maturing group, though it is louder than most of the material on this disc.  The Grammy-winning “Elite” is also a standout in terms of tempo and energy – Moreno’s vocals are at a constant squeal, and the riffs are in constant repetition.  The song feels like a high-speed car chase, if such a thing were well-organized and choreographed down to every last tire mark on the highway.

These songs are surrounded by tracks that focus on melody and message more than the pure adrenaline (pun) that encompassed previous Deftones material.  While the energy is usually steady, and the music mostly loud, Moreno’s crooning is the tool that keeps everything flowing at a smoother pace than it had before.  The vocalist has found his niche alongside his bandmates – with White Pony, he becomes the captain steering the ship toward gentler waters, and the trip is rewarding for anyone on board, coasting along.

The best examples are the catchy highlight “Knife Prty,” “Passenger” (featuring Maynard James Keenan), and the band’s biggest hit to date, “Change (In the House of Flies).”

Right in the middle of the album is “Teenager,” the softest, and most beautiful thing we had heard from the group to date.  It’s a teaser for the band’s quieter sound, something that would be further explored on future releases.

White Pony, overall, is a huge success.  Everything just sounds better; Terry Date’s polished production has put the spotlight on the key points the band conveys throughout.  The ballads are prettier and more focused, the loud songs are less dense and more straightforward, and the album as a whole flows better than any Deftones album before it.  Well, it did, until Maverick decided to add “Back to School” to the fray.  Oh, well, at least they put it at the beginning – it’s a good tribute to the past, bidding the 90’s sound of the Deftones farewell.  Once the album that was originally intended kicks in, we are able to witness the transformation of the band into the new millennium.  And, as we found out with their next releases, it was quite a transformation, indeed.

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