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Metal Detector - Collecting Classic Albums: Faith No More

Arguably the most influential rock band of the past two decades, Faith No More were the group who got everything right. CR retraces the steps of this most dysfunctional success story.

There was never anyone quite like them. Of today’s many metal bands owing a musical debt to Faith No More, even the most prodigious could only seize upon surface elements of FNM’s mercurial sound. Never again will there be a band like them. Faith No Man were an early 80s San Francisco post-punk group, heavily influenced by Joy Division and Public Image Ltd. After ejecting frontman Mike 'The Man' Morris, the band rechristened themselves Faith No More and spent the next few years cycling through various guitarists and frontpeople – including, infamously, a young Courtney Love. Eventually they settled on the iconically speccy Bay Area thrash guitarist ‘Big’ Jim Martin, and a charismatic miscreant known as Chuck Mosely became the band’s new singer. A debut album, We Care A Lot, appeared in 1985, but it wasn’t until 1987’s Introduce Yourself that people took note – the band’s post-punk origins now blurring with frantic thrash guitar, funk-twisted bass and pop-hip-hop choruses. Interviews with the band depicted a group at war – practical jokes, fist fights. The last straw came when the band gave Mosley money to get singing lessons and he allegedly squandered the cash on Quaaludes. Mosley was fired. A third album was recorded as the band hunted for a new singer. Fresh out of high school in Eureka, California, Mike Patton was happy screaming with his friends in their novelty death-metal group Mr Bungle and preparing for college. But then came the phone calls. A Bungle demo had found its way into Jim Martin’s hands, and the volatile guitarist plagued Patton’s parents’ answering machine with drunken, obsessive messages. Hassled to audition, the naïve freshman was hired without pause or question. The Real Thing’s MTV-approved flagship single, the anthemic Epic, turned the band into megastars, and their fresh-faced frontman into a reluctant teen idol. Tours with Guns N’ Roses and Metallica cemented their pop-alternative-metal crossover appeal. Still seething with friction, the band made it through the recording of 1992’s Angel Dust, but not without Martin’s dismissal the following year. His confidence boosted, Patton infected FNM’s music with his deranged lyrical ideas and warped pop melodies. Angel Dust was darker, angrier, more experimental – more Patton. The former Sassy Girl pin-up revelled in gleefully deviant, childlike behaviour now he had the world’s attention – most famously pissing into his shoe onstage and drinking from it, and defecating into hotel hair dryers. Faith No More continued with substitute guitarists for the albums King For A Day... Fool For A Lifetime (1995) and Album Of The Year (1997), but its members were becoming increasingly preoccupied with myriad side projects. Bassist Billy Gould’s death-metal supergroup Brujeria; keyboardist Roddy Bottum’s melodic Imperial Teen; Patton persevering with the ever unreliable Mr Bungle. Faith No More split in early 1998, with a reputation as the most unpredictable rock band of the 90s. In a statement to the press, Bill Gould announced: “The decision among the members is mutual, and there will be no pointing of fingers, no naming of names, other than stating, for the record, that ‘Puffy started it.’”

MUSIC:

MR BUNGLE 

Mr Bungle weren’t an FNM side-project, but the two bands enjoyed a suitably disharmonius symbiotic relationship throughout their lifespan. Upon joining FNM, Patton enraged his new bandmates by hijacking The Real Thing’s promotional campaign to hawk Bungle tapes to journalists. It was Bungle opening for FNM that got Patton’s demo to Jim Martin, and it was Patton’s condition of his hiring that Bungle were also signed. Musically the two bands often seemed to be competing to out-‘eclect’ each other, with Bungle resembling what FNM could have sounded like without Gould, Bottum and Bordin to keep Patton’s ADD-zapped genre-flitting and juvenile obsessions with fetishes, porn and poo in check. FNM even hired Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance to replace Jim Martin – weirdly, against Patton’s wishes – only for him to exit acrimoniously months later. Mr Bungle released three albums: the spasmodic, self-titled 1991 debut; Disco Volante (1995) – dubbed “the worst album ever made” by NME; and the kitschy lounge-pop swan-song California (1999). Patton put the group on ice shortly after FNM disbanded, devoting his energies instead to three brand new groups: Maldoror, Tomahawk and Fantomas.

THE ALBUMS...

AVOID!

WE CARE A LOT 

(MORDAM, 1985)

Early-day promise of weirdness to come.

Faith No More’s first full-length effort shouldn’t be avoided so much as treated with caution. This isn’t particularly representative of the stadium-filling sound the band would gradually grow into. Faith No More’s adolescent obsessions with British post-punk are still quite evident, especially on the excellent, juddering, PiL-influenced The Jungle. When it works, We Care A Lot’s sheet-metal guitar, burbling sub-funk bass and backward-phased wooshes make a formidable textural counterpoint to Chuck Mosley’s gloriously ragged bratty vocals. Despite this, the album’s best songs – the Bono-baiting title track and the swirling, angry As The Worm Turns – would benefit from being re-recorded in later years in more definitive versions. But this is still an interersting catch of a record. Definitely worth checking out for the curious and open-minded, but Introduce Yourself is the real highlight of the Mosley era.

AS THE WORM TURNS 

FANS ONLY

ALBUM OF THE YEAR 

(SLASH/REPRISE, 1997)

They don’t care that much any more.

There’s nothing wrong with Faith No More’s audaciously-titled final album. It’s a strong collection of songs that successfully combines all of the band’s previous experiments with genre into one solid package. In many ways, it is the most consistent album the band ever produced. But that’s part of the problem. There isn’t anything unpredictable about this disc – nothing unnerving or frightening. Although they pushed gently into new sounds with the noir-drenched electronic ambience of Stripsearch, there was a sense lingering by now that Patton, Gould, Bottum and Bordin had already achieved everything they could together. Album Of The Year is an impressively cinematic album, full of widescreen, panoramic choruses – and Patton’s smooth-as-satin vocals have never sounded more handsome. If you don’t already own any of this band’s music, though, this is not essential listening. 

ASHES TO ASHES 

THE VIDEOS

YOU FAT BASTARDS 

Faith No More’s first video was the visual accompaniment to their 1991 Live At Brixton Academy album. Dubbed You Fat Bastards, it’s a fun and energetic display of the band at the peak of their popularity. The flailing Mike Patton is a hyperactive and intensely watchable frontman – careering around stage and adlibbing New Kids On The Block lyrics over the band’s hits. Video Croissant (1992) was the group’s first compilation of promos and features a demonic MTV performance of Caffeine as well as the sight of 80,000 Spanish fans pelting the group with waves of piss-filled plastic bottles. Who Cares A Lot? is a posthumous collection, covering all of the band’s not-always-brilliant music videos – watch out for the flapping fish at the end of Epic, which sparked vitriol from animal rights activists and, weirdly, Bjork, who claimed the fish was her pet.

THE COVERS

TRIBUTE OF THE YEAR 

Faith No More’s love/hate affair with the cover song began with The Real Thing’s hipster-baiting inclusion of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs. When the tune’s popularity backfired on the band, they switched to performing The Commodores' 1970s hit Easy. It then became a massive hit single in 1993 for FNM with a UK No.3, which then became a millstone around their neck. In later years, FNM covered tunes by The Bee Gees (I Started A Joke), Al Martino, Portishead, GG Allin, Dead Kennedys, Burt Bacharach and Sparks, among others. John Barry’s theme from Midnight Cowboy, meanwhile, became FNM’s signature show-opener. The band received the covers treatment themselves in 2002 with the album Tribute Of The Year.

THE DISCOGRAPHY

1985 – We Care A Lot (Mordam) 

1987 – Introduce Yourself (Slash/Rhino) 

1989 – The Real Thing (Slash) 

1991 – Live At Brixton Academy (Polygram)

1992 – Angel Dust (Slash) 

1995 – King For A Day... Fool For A Lifetime (Slash/Reprise) 

1997 – Album Of The Year (Slash/Reprise) 

1998 – Who Cares A Lot? Greatest Hits (Slash/Reprise)

ESSENTIAL FAITH NO MORE

  1. _MIDLIFE CRISIS - __ANGEL DUST_ (1992)

2. _EPIC - __THE REAL THING_ (1989)

3. _BE AGGRESSIVE - __ANGEL DUST_ (1992)

4. _ASHES TO ASHES - __ALBUM OF THE YEAR_ (1997)

5. _WE CARE A LOT - __INTRODUCE YOURSELF_ (1987)

6. _FROM OUT OF NOWHERE - __THE REAL THING_ (1989)

7. _LAST CUP OF SORROW - __ALBUM OF THE YEAR_ (1997)

8. _INTRODUCE YOURSELF - __INTRODUCE YOURSELF_ (1987)

9. _EVIDENCE - __KING FOR A DAY... FOOL FOR A LIFETIME_ (1995)

10. AS THE WORM TURNS (PATTON VERSION) - MIDLIFE CRISIS (SINGLE B-SIDE) (1992)

11. _FALLING TO PIECES - __THE REAL THING_ (1989)

12. _LAND OF SUNSHINE - __ANGEL DUST_ (1992) 

WILD CARD

INTRODUCE YOURSELF 

(SLASH/RHINO, 1987)

Second impressions count.

A wild card purely because if your prime interest in Faith No More is in the larger-than-life vocal dynamo that is Mike Patton, then you’re unlikely to be convinced by the prospect of a Pattonless FNM. Introduce Yourself is an irresistably charming record, though. In the same way that Paul Di Annio’s voice on early Maiden sounds lovably rugged when contrasted with their slick later work, Chuck Mosely’s goofy, purposefully-underachieving vocals smother these songs in a huge dollop of retarded playfulness – something that Patton’s studied delivery could never quite emulate. The monochrome texture rock of the first album is updated into glorious technicolour with Faster Disco and Chinese Arithmetic, but the album really delivers in the pop-art funk of Anne’s Song and the revised We Care A Lot. Even Mike Patton, who dismissed FNM’s debut as “bad hippy music – I hated it”, admits to a fondness for Introduce Yourself.

WE CARE A LOT 

RECOMMENDED 

KING FOR A DAY... FOOL FOR A LIFETIME   

(SLASH/REPRISE, 1995)

An often underrated classic.

Easily the most schizophonic album Faith No More ever produced, King For A Day... musically is cleaved right down the middle, alternating between ice cold cooler-than-cool lounge funk and frighteningly ugly jackhammer thrash-punk. Although the band were perceived to have lost a crucial component in the departure of Jim Martin – the ‘metal-or-nothing’ bespectacled monster who anchored FNM in the rock arena – Mr Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance makes the existing heavy bits in FNM’s sound 10 times heavier, and the cheesy bits, uh, cheesier. Evidence is beautiful liquid soul and Just A Man is anthemic funk-pumped cabaret, but the flip side to this set-piece whimsy is demonic, neurotic whirlwinds such as Ugly In The Morning – Patton flipping painlessly between soft soul-boy crooning and gibbering, demented, frenzied ecstasy.

EVIDENCE 

SILVER MEDAL

THE REAL THING 

(SLASH, 1989)

Platinum weirdness for the masses.

It wasn’t just that this was the world’s introduction to Mike Patton that made this album special. Faith No More had been steadily building towards something over their seven-year existence, and The Real Thing was it. The loose ends, promise and hinted-at ideas of Introduce Yourself here coalesced into a fiercely united musical vision. Given that the various members had long complained that they had nothing in common musically, The Real Thing demonstrated not only how individually talented the musicians in Faith No More were, but how devastatingly inventive they could be when combined. Here, they remodel their sound into super-colourful heart-stopping pop metal. Almost any track from this album could have been a hit, and Epic was simply colossal. And then there was, of course, Mike Patton, who from now on loaded FNM’s music with a lethal dose of sarcasm and surrealism.

EPIC 

MUST HAVE

ANGEL DUST  

(SLASH, 1992)

A masterpiece by any measure.

Faith No More made a lot of great albums. But with Angel Dust they made one masterpiece.

It’s a wonder the follow-up to the stratospheric The Real Thing was even completed at all. Exaggerated rumours of the band’s demise were splashed across the music press and – echoing the Mosley/Martin predicament – a very public feud had developed between Mike Patton and the cartoon-metaller guitarist.

Nevertheless, Angel Dust’s music is worlds away from anything Faith No More had previously put its name to. Just describing it is difficult – a twitchy, erratic symphony that spins through different movements and moods, always on edge. As Martin frequently failed to show up for sessions, many of his guitar tracks were stripped from the recordings by his irate bandmates. Yet this didn’t make the music any less heavy, indeed the adjectives most commonly associated with _Angel __Dust_ seem to be ‘dark’, ‘malevolent’ and – in the least obvious way possible – ‘ determinedly aggressive’.

There isn’t a second in Angel Dust that isn’t crammed with whirling ideas and clashing sounds. But the band had lost no aptitude for melody either. The whole thing resounds with these combinations.

Despite publicly giving the impression that he was just killing time in FNM until Bungle hit the big time, Patton excelled himself here. The singer’s idiosyncratic character is smeared all over Angel Dust. Many of the lyrics were even cooked up in a sleep-deprivation experiment the singer endured – see the self-help psychosis of Land Of Sunshine or the gale-force paranoia of Caffeine.

A lovely metaphor for the visceral artistry of Angel Dust can be found in the album’s sleeve art. On the front cover is a beautiful image of a swan emerging from an azure background. On the rear: skinned animals and chopped-up meat. Even now, after listening to Angel Dust, other rock music suddenly seems to have a lot less ideas.  

LAND OF SUNSHINE LIVE 

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