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The Real Thing

Faith No More

1989

The Real Thing was quite the sensation when it came out in 1989, thanks in large part to the incredibly popular video for "Epic".  As great as the song was, the video really took it to another level, and as a result it broke Faith No More into the mainstream in a big way.  And while "Epic" may indeed be the best song on The Real Thing, the entire album as a whole is equally impressive.  From start to finish, The Real Thing is an infectious and engaging listening experience, taking the funk-rock tendencies no doubt inspired by the Chili Peppers and delivering with more of a metal/experimental flavor.  The 1-2-3 opening punch of "From Out of Nowhere", "Epic", and "Falling to Pieces" is one of the best open trios of songs to an album in alternative rock history if you ask me.  These songs not only rock hard and have rad rhythm, but they are incredibly fun to listen to.  They will get you moving, and they are all pretty GD catchy to boot.  "Surprise, you’re Dead!" is the most overtly metal song on the album...thrashy, maniacal and again, not to beat a dead horse, but "fun".  But perhaps the best thing about The Real Thing are the more avant-garde and experimental moments, which are best displayed on the next two tracks "Zombie Eaters" and "The Real Thing".  These songs have a sense of brooding drama and intensity to them that are very unique not only in FNM's broader catalog, but in alternative-rock/metal as well.  They're like progressive-alternative-funk-metal compositions.  They're intense, they have atmosphere, and they both kick a serious amount of ass, while retaining the playful fun vibe that characterizes much of the album as a whole.  After those two epics (no pun intended) the infectiously catchy sound of the beginning of the album returns with the pimp-tastic "Underwater Love" (another highlight) and the highly satisfying "The Morning After".  Again, these songs are just flat out catchy and are fun to listen to.  Then Faith No More gets weird again with the bizarre instrumental "Woodpecker From Mars".  Mike Gould's slap-bass is simply off the chain here, and the keyboards help give this wicked little tune an extra otherworldly quality.  The band then closes with easily the best cover version of "War Pigs" of all time (great choice btw) and the uniquely tongue-in-cheek and loungy "Edge of the World" (which is actually a pretty GD good song for what it is).

So what you have with The Real Thing is not only an incredibly fun and infectious alternative-funk-metal album, but perhaps more importantly a genuinely groundbreaking and unique album that was hugely influential for future bands of the alt-metal genre.  And while most of the album is catchy as hell, arguably the best moments come from the more intensely bizarre challenging songs, which are quite simply nothing short of brilliant.  Faith No More would go on to record another fantastic album, the incredibly sinister and maniacal "Angel Dust" a few years later, and while that album is arguably a more rewarding and intense listening experience, it's hard to argue that Faith No More were not at their best on The Real Thing.  All things considered, it's their best album.  An absolute classic.

9.4

Angel Dust

Faith No More

1992

Angel Dust was released 3 years after Faith No More's breakthrough album The Real Thing, which brought the band a great deal of commercial success and critical acclaim.  With their hit single "Epic" and the associated infamous video for the song, Faith No More were riding the huge alternative-rock wave that was cascading through the early 90s music scene.

So what would they do for a follow up?  With the prospect of more fame and fortune knocking at their door, Faith No More decided to send a big, collective FU to the mainstream by producing one of the most difficult, inaccessable follow-ups to a hit record in recent memory.  And while Angel Dust may certainly be a bit more of a challenging listen that it's predecessor, it is certainly no less rewarding, and in many respects, is equally as good if not better than The Real Thing, at least from an artistic-merit prospective.

One of the first things that is noticable about Angel Dust compared to The Real Thing is the change in Mike Patton's singing voice from a nasally tone to a more more mature, fuller sounding tone.  That was certainly an improvement in most people's eyes.  Additionally, the album is much more sinister in nature that it's predecessor.  The opener "Land of Sunshine" sets the tone for the entire album, with it's funky, menacingly mocking vibe.  They also bring the heavy on this album too, as evidenced by the next track "Caffeine", which is one of Faith No More's heaviest songs of all-time.  The song's mid-tempo thrashing is infectious, and Mike Patton is in full psycho mode with his threatening delivery.

After one of the more accessible (but no less cool) tracks on the album "Midlife Crisis" the album starts to get weirder and weirder, steadily decending into stranger and more experimental territory, like a sinister ride through a twisted funhouse of country music, metal, tribal chanting, cheerleader-led choruses, eerie keyboards, wickedly funky basslines, and thrashy yet danceable drum beats.  Throw in Jim Martin's unique brand of guitar playing and you have Faith No More reaching their full potential with Mike Patton, who acts as the mad-scientist leading this incredibly maniacal, bad-ass monster.

It's a beautiful thing, and the climax of the album hits with "Jizzlobber" (see mad-scientist reference above).  Truly a menacing piece of work, and quite brilliant.

After this album, the lynchpin of the group, guitarist Jim Martin, would leave the band, and Faith No More would never really be the same again.  They put out a couple of decent albums a few years down the road, but they never would be able to capture the evil-genius quality that permiates through Angel Dust.  Truly one of the best and too often overlooked albums to come out of the 90s.

9.3

King for a Day...Fool for a Lifetime

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Faith No More

1995

Coming off the heals of the maniacally brilliant Angel Dust, Faith No More lost their famed guitarist Jim Martin and went into the studio to record King for a Day...Fool for a Lifetime, and the results are predictably dissappointing, although not in the way you might expect.  This is a spastic record, and has more in common with Mr. Bungle's debut than most Faith No More albums.  It's kind of a marriage between FNM and Bungle, which makes sense because Patton recruited Mr. Bungle's guitarist to record on this album.  Granted it's nowhere as abstract or weird as Mr. Bungle, so the spastic and bizarre tendancies on display here fall kind of flat for the most part.  They try a multitude of styles, but it doesn't always work, as this album lacks the atmosphere, gravity, and overall quality of TRT and AD.  There's good and there's bad, an interesting ride, but at the end of the day it's disappointing and probably their worst record (with Patton).

8.3

Album of the Year

Faith No More

1997

This is FNM making a worthwhile attempt at making a good album again, after the somewhat disappointing and spastic King for a Day...Fool for a Lifetime.  And overall, it's marginally successful attempt.  While it is an overall more well-rounded album, and is generally a more focused outing, it definitely comes up short when compared to their 1st two classics (with Patton).  It sounds tame and somewhat drab by comparison, but it's not really bad, it's just slightly underwhelming.  That said, I do enjoy most of this album, but ultimately it is an  mildly unsatisfying swan-song for one of the best bands of the 90s.  Certainly not bad, and actually pretty good overall, but they could have done better.

8.5

Sol Invictus

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Faith No More

2015

If you would have told me a year ago that Faith No More would be releasing their first album in 18 years in 2015, I would have no doubt been excited about it. If you would have asked me what I thought it would sound like, I would have said something like “well, there’s no way in hell they’ll cook up anything as good as The Real Thing or Angel Dust but I would hope it would be in the same league as King for a Day… or Album of the Year…but after 18 years…I’m wouldn’t hold my breath”.

I preface this review with that mindset, because I think it’s important to approach Sol Invictus with proper expectations. If you are actually expecting this album to be as infectious/profound as The Real Thing or Angel Dust, albums that were released literally a generation ago, chances are you will be at least somewhat disappointed with Sol Invictus, but that’s really your own fault for having overzealous expectations.
Anyway, to the matter at hand: Sol Invictus. I have listened to this album front-to-back roughly 20 times now, and I can say that it continues to grow on me. My initial impression was that it sounded like a pretty good demo, given the album’s very stripped-down, fairly direct/blunt nature. The guys produced this album themselves, and understandably so, but I think it could have used some finishing touches/flourishes from a like-minded producer that could have added a bit more atmosphere/personality to some of these songs. I also got the vibe that the band was relying a bit too much on power to get their point across, as many of the songs have a hard-driving, pummeling nature that somewhat lack hooks and memorable choruses, etc.

However, after repeated listens, I’ve noticed certain dynamics/layers that were not immediately apparent on the surface, and many of the songs I found to be initially underwhelming are now stubbornly stuck in my head (i.e. “Sunny Side Up”, and even “MFer”). Also, the stripped-down and occasionally spare nature of the album, that I initially thought contributed to a lack of atmosphere, in actuality, do contribute to the atmosphere and broader personality of this album, which is best described as sinister and somewhat gothic in nature (see the brilliant “Separation Anxiety”).

I like that.

I also have come to appreciate that this album sounds really nothing like anything else in alternative rock/metal right now. It’s unique, and almost has an artful thing going on with its dingy and cryptic darkness.

So in other words, I’ve come realize that it’s everything a Faith No More record should be: challenging, unsettling, surprising, heavy, melodic, and confounding. So even though I can’t say it’s one of their best albums, I can now say that it’s a quality addition to their already impressive catalog.

Welcome home my friends.

8.1

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