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As an added bonus, Moreno's words, which he mainly sings or wails as opposed to the angry rapping on Adrenaline and Fur, largely reject the easy fatalism so common in this genre in favor of something more imagistic and amorphous. Most listeners will have no idea precisely why he's so obsessed with all things oral; the mouth references in "Digital Bath" ("You make the water warm/You taste foreign") and "Street Carp" ("But you're that girl/With the gold teeth") are hardly the only ones. But they'll no doubt feel like the answer is right on the tips of their tongues.
Because White Pony is clearly smarter and more ambitious than most discs of its ilk, it's been embraced by mainstream publications such as Time. That may be a mixed blessing in this context: Most high schoolers with pierced tongues and "Born to Die" tattoos would rather pound their genitalia with a meat tenderizer than admit to liking something lauded in a mag like that. Cheng, however, seems legitimately pleased by such praise. "I'm happy they're embracing the album," he says. But that doesn't mean he's willing to knock contemporaries like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit, who are ostensibly working the same territory yet are more interested in appealing to the lowest common denominator than in stretching out.
"It's a tough business, and anybody who does well in the business, they've got my blessing. And it's good for everybody when guys are doing well. If you plug your guitar in and it's electric and you're playing rock music, it's just going to help.
"For us, it's all about writing music that makes us feel good and that we can go to bed and feel good about at night," he continues. "Our goal is to mature and, hopefully, to innovate. But if other bands want to use gimmicks, that's cool -- and I can even enjoy that sometimes. It's like, every movie I watch doesn't have to be a Jim Jarmusch flick. Every once in a while I'll want to watch a Bruce Willis movie -- something that isn't necessarily thought-provoking. And I think the same is true of music, you know."
This time around, the Deftones will have a chance to find out if the pop-music audience is willing to face the relative challenges its music presents. Likely inspired by Maverick's vigorous marketing campaign, which included the release of White Pony in several limited editions (an enhanced CD, discs with colored jewel boxes and different bonus tracks), an Internet "house party" and one of the most elaborate electronic press kits ever, MTV is airing the clip for "Change" -- "although not on TRL or anything like that," Cheng points out. "But that's probably because our fans would never call up and vote for us. They're really possessive of us, and a lot of them don't want us to get any bigger. They don't want to see kids they don't like at school in a Deftones shirt."
Thus far, such aficionados have remained true to the band despite the shifts that exemplify White Pony. According to Cheng, "Nobody's really accused us of selling out yet, and I don't think they will. After making the three albums we've done, people really can't say anything. They know the work speaks for itself."
As for being at the center of a media hypefest, Cheng sees no need to apologize. "I don't think anyone would want to be in any particular job for a long time and not move up," he says. "So after 11 years, making a little scratch wouldn't be a bad deal."
After all, baby needs a new pair of shoes.