It's not that White Pony is a bad album; it might even be a transitional album. Taken by itself, though, there's just not much on it to distinguish Deftones from a host of other melodic metal bands, both above and below average. And that, especially from a band as inventive as this one can be, is tough to reconcile. I mean, Limp Bizkit puts out a mediocre album, we're none the poorer. At the end of White Pony, however, something's missing, and it's noticeable.
Not that Deftones fans are at a loss for material these days. There are something like three full-length versions of White Pony currently circulating: the gray cover version, which is the mainstream release; two limited-edition runs with black and red covers, containing a bonus track ("The Boy's Republic"); and an Internet/download version with different sequencing, retitled songs, and a different bonus track ("Spiralling," with guest B-Real from Cypress Hill). Deftones performed on Letterman on June 20 (the day of the release), and a few weeks before that on an "Internet house party" hosted by entertaindom.com, on which they previewed some of the songs. This glut of material, alongside agitated press releases and day-by-day updates on approximately 4,000 fan-built Web sites of varying quality, makes White Pony seem like the most anticipated arrival in the history of recorded sound.
All this hyperventilating, however, damages the album's reception in the final analysis. Musically, most of White Pony sounds too much like the general run of mainstream radio white-boy angst-metal bands to hold the interest of anyone coming to the group for the first time, though most listeners who are already fans will probably take to it. Similarly, Chino Moreno's famously enigmatic lyrics, the subject of discussion groups on at least 200 of those 4,000 Web sites mentioned above, more often than not on White Pony come off inscrutable to no very interesting purpose, once the layers get unraveled. Songs about addiction and sexual exploration don't require much obfuscating to get their point across, and Moreno's word play here is, by and large, scarcer and lighter than on previous releases.
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Again, though, most of the album is below par, not all of it. There are a few above-average tracks, like "feiticeira," "change (in the house of flies)" and especially the brief "teenager," which comes in the dead center of the album, right where it should, since this song, more than the seven-plus-minute closer "pink maggit," demonstrates what Deftones can do when they push the limits of the genre. "teenager," a striking song aimed squarely at the band's listeners -- young effed-up men and women -- could very well have been written by any one of those effed-up men or women themselves. You have to watch a band whose fan base sticks with it when a very good album becomes a very public commercial failure, as 1997's Around the Fur undeservedly turned out to be; and this single moment on an otherwise average album is reason enough to continue to watch Deftones closely. Any band that can take the effed-upness of its listeners and give it back to them this beautifully is doing serious work, even if this particular offering isn't quite up to their potential.