Albums Revisited: Faith No More’s ‘The Real Thing’ Turns 25. Pioneering alternative band’s breakthrough album celebrates 25th anniversary on June 20th.
I recently reported that Faith No More have hinted that they’re recording new material. And next week, their groundbreaking album, 1989s’ ‘The Real Thing‘ turns 25 years old.
If ever there was a band that’s hard to classify, and misinterpreted by critics and casual listeners alike, it’s FNM. And after re-listening to ‘The Real Thing’, I kinda think they like it that way.
When Faith No More started out in 1981, they struggled to find a reliable vocalist (including Courtney Love?!). And after recording their first two albums, they kicked out singer Chuck Mosley, an erratic vocalist who often fell asleep onstage.
Into the fray came singer Mike Patton, recruited by producer Matt Wallace, on the strength of Patton’s demo from his band Mr. Bungle. And after accepting the lead gig, they began recording ‘The Real Thing’ an genre-defying album made by a group of guys who weren’t necessarily the best of friends.
Patton often drove Wallace crazy, as he jettisoned his incredible vocal range in favor of a bratty nasal whine (Wallace would eventually goad Patton to explore his full vocal dexterity on follow-up album ‘Angel Dust.’)
Regardless, they finished the album, the first single being the relatively straightforward ‘From Out Of Nowhere’, which charted well in the U.K. but was ignored in the states. My first memory of the band was seeing the title track played on 120 Minutes. I can find no online source mentioning it as a single, but I remember it, and recalled thinking it was a bizarre choice given the prog-rock flavored track clocked in over 8 minutes.
So the album languished in semi-obscurity until a year later, when ‘Epic’ was released. And then everything changed. Sure rock and rap had already begun coexisting, most famously in the RUN DMC/Aerosmith ‘Walk This Way’ collaboration, or Slayer’s Kerry King playing with the Beastie Boys. But ‘Epic’ was different. Patton didn’t lean on another hip-hop artist to spit rhymes, he covered both territories himself. And while other band’s like RHCP and Anthrax also fused hard-rock and rap, ‘Epic’ beat them to the punch by nature of more widespread exposure.
The high energy video showed Patton to be a manic , memorable performer, and the eerie video (with the controversial flopping fish) made them MTV mainstays, and gave them their first (and only) #1 hit single. Follow-up single ‘Falling To Pieces’ was a more modest hit. But driven by ‘Epic’ the album eventually went platinum.
And those two songs are where most folks in the U.S. began and ended with Faith No More. Because the rest of the album is an altogether stranger beast, driven not just by the band’s metal-rap-punk-prog fusion but by Patton’s bizarre lyrics, (even though he views them as an afterthought).
Patton avoided confessional lyrics altogether. Each song felt like a mini-movie, told from the perspective of various freaks and geeks; The thrash metal track ‘Surprise Your Dead’ is about a ravenous vampire, the power-ballad/rap-rock of ‘Zombie Eaters’ is from the POV of an infant, and the jazzy ‘Edge Of The World’ is an unsettling account of a pedophile seducing a young girl.
And ‘Underwater Love’ may sound like a metaphor for a tumultuous relationship, but it’s really about a serial killer drowning a woman in a bathtub.
Patton’s talent is so full frontal that his band members are often relegated to the sidelines, but they were equally integral to their crazy quilt sound. Guitarist Jim Martin brought the heavy metal thunder on ‘Surprise’, the title track and the Black Sabbath cover ‘War Pigs.’ Bassist Billy Gould and drummer Mike Bordin created a seismic funky, post-punk rhythm section. And while keyboards can often water down rock music, Roddy Bottum’s ethereal, cinematic tones were
the icing on their hallucinogenic cake.
After ‘The Real Thing’, the band released the even more ambitious ‘Angel Dust’ to lesser commercial success, and this pattern followed through every successive release. But the band cultivated a legion of die-hard fans, and a career platform for Patton to explore his esoteric genius via countless other musical projects.
Faith No More is often credited/blamed for the Nu-Metal mid-90’s scene that followed, as many members of band’s like Limp Bizkit, name-checked them as influences. It’s a confounding accusation, and one that rankled Patton in particular, stating;“I feel no responsibility for that, it’s their mothers’ fault, not mine.”
Perhaps those bands, like most of America started and ended at ‘Epic’, because Faith No More were about confounding eardrums, avoiding pigeonholing and being effortlessly clever musical pranksters. ‘The Real Thing’ may have marked their commercial peak, but for adventurous listeners, it was the beginning of a long, twisted love affair with one of the most original and compelling bands in rock.