Take a step back into California, 1989: The punk scene had dwindled, bands like Black Flag fallen by the wayside, and glam rock was fading. But down there, it wasn’t upstart grunge acts whining about Negative Creeps taking the reigns from the big-haired guitar soloists, no, it was an entity different entirely. California saw the early beginnings of an alternative rock sprout, in its rawest form combining an eclectic and energetic blend of glam metal, punk, funk, and even rap. The Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction did it, they were leading the way down in L.A. Up in San Francisco, though, there was something different brewing still. Primus were beginning to get on their feet, and Faith No More, new vocalist Mike Patton at the wheel, were ready to proverbially punch the musical world in the face with The Real Thing. Today, we look back on one of the most bombastic and most well-loved rock albums of its time — does it deserve the love? Let’s find out.
Faith No More had been kicking down boundaries and slapping their bass to bodaciously funky results for the rest of the 80s already, but it wasn’t until Patton joined their ranks that they saw the kind of success this brought them. Two solid funk-punk-rock romps down in their first two albums, an increasingly erratic loose cannon (at the time) in original vocalist Chuck Mosley let go, and a continually successful relationship with major record label Slash set in place, it seemed like destiny that they’d finally make their mainstream breakthrough.
Not only did they make their mainstream breakthrough, though, but the band also saw a major sonic breakthrough, creating an album that emits an exciting energy, and undeniable quality, that feels fresh to this day. So there’s your answer. It deserves the love. I mean, you could probably already tell I was gonna say that. This is The Real Thing, after all — it’s in the name. One reason why? Two words. Mike Patton.
Sure, Mosley was, for all intents and purposes, a strong enough vocalist for FNM; he brought the silly and he brought the fun to carry the funk — and, having sadly passed in 2017, he is incredibly fondly remembered, there’s no arguing that. The fact is, for all his youthful energy at the time, it became evident that he would not have grown into the frontman designed for Faith No More as we know them now, and where he plied his trade elsewhere, he did better, and to better fit.
Mike Patton, at the time long-haired and bouncy, sporting none other than backwards caps, no less, in all his sprightly energy and colourful attire, was the perfect man for the job. Hired purely on merit of his early Mr Bungle demo tapes, Faith No More’s third record would be the first time the world would hear him sing. Albeit, “singing” both under-and-over-plays it. Sometimes it’s shouting, sometimes it’s a nasal-y rap, and sometimes it’s bellowing as gobsmackingly diverse as it is beautiful. This was the world’s introduction to the world’s greatest rock-singer, and I, for one, am grateful for such a stroke of fate.
The band’s two pre-Patton releases were, as I mentioned, solid. Solid enough. Particularly ’87’s Introduce Yourself, it had its fair share of slapped funk tones and fun-loving vocal delivery, and that was atop a selection of 80s synths, pianos and shredding guitars. For however fun, and solid the album was, though, it never quite reached that next level. That next level of grandeur, that sonic leap into ultimate levels of absurdity — it still felt, for lack of a better word, pretty steady. Take that steady propulsion of fun 80s funk rock-metal, then, rip it to shreds and put it together again, only to then smack it into a speedboat’s propeller and drop its remains into a budding volcano — that’ll make it bigger, better. At least that’s what these guys did. Hopefully it works for your band trying to make that next breakthrough.
Slash open the curtains, then, with From out of Nowhere!!!!, aptly titled, four exclamation marks plenty good, and you’ve got the beginnings of quite the listening experience. The characteristically 80s synth drone is there and well in place, the shredding glam-metal-inspired guitars are accounted for, and the drums are smashed a good’un, just how we like them. All par for the course? You’d be badly mistaken, but I understand where you’re coming from. No, the sounds are largely the same and all here, but there’s something different. Something new. The only quantifiably different aspect of the instrumental here from your friendly ol’ Faith No More track up until this point is the pace. It’s quicker, zippier, and, you got that, right? LOUDER.
The bass starts to slap out of the proportions of the power chords, and we know something’s around the corner. That something new. Not only that fresh dosage of volume and direction. It’s Patton. And, whether you’re from the 1980s or from the 2010s and just coming across this, you’ve never heard anything like his voice before. It’s nasal, ew. It’s high-pitched, but it sounds kinda odd, no? Wrong. This is a new brand of bombastic singing. A fresh slap to the face of all that you considered conventionally right, but with the dexterous lungs of a roaring lion in its prime and enough energy to fight an enraged killer whale and beat it in a surfing contest.
As with the ramped up, in-your-face production we can hear on this opening track, his vocals are as big and as fresh as you’re going to hear, and married to the vigorous, dynamic instrumental, it’s a match made in heaven. And what follows this musical slap to the face, you ponder, amidst struggles to recover from the experience you just got put through? Oho. Ohohohoho. You’re in for a wild ride.
Epic. Any self-respecting rock, metal, music fan knows this one. Or at least they should. Equally as From out of Nowhere!!!! felt like a bewildering breath of fresh air, Epic feels as its name suggests — Epic. From the thunder clad music video, you know it. This song, it’s everything. It’s huge. It’s got energy. It’s got bite. It’s got fun. And all those in boisterous abundance: A visceral, joyously carefree journey into all things funky, all things loud and everything silly. Still proudly robed in the ripped jeans in what was their alternative, vociferous interpretation of the time and shredding guitars left, right, and right in your stomach — a big phat punch, and it hurts. But we take it, we soak it up, and we love it. Coming in at only track two of Patton’s maiden voyage, this is already Faith No More at what was and remains their most brilliant, in what is easily, for me, the best rock song of its entire decade.
It even brought about a Chili Peppers law-suit. And however many may agree with Kiedis’ outlandish claims that he was being copied, that part-rapped funk-rock outburst I just went through may have all the conventional parts of Flea and co.’s famous outfit’s best songs at the time, that doesn’t mean it’s a copy, or the same. Epic is something lovingly brewed from the same base music scene, and naturally has similar elements to your Give it Aways or your Johnny, Kick a Hole in the Skies, but it presents a different kind of energy. More proudly glam, more proudly 80s, effectively. And, for better or worse (a debate for another day), a little bouncier.
Track three, Falling to Pieces, takes it upon itself to continue in the same vein, and who are we to complain? By the third track mark, it is well established what kind of album the San Francisco oddballs are putting their listeners through; an album that carries this kind of boundless, off-the-wall energy, grounded by well-explored early metal rhythmic explorations but made infinitely unique by its infectious sense of fun.
Whilst its Mike Patton’s immense vocal work that paves the way, it’s every single component working in a manic harmony that makes this the raucously entertaining experience that it is. Levels of ludicrous lyrical genius you’ll hear on this album had not yet been explored even by the silliest most in-your-face rock bands before Faith No More, and barely have matched them since. Moments of ingenious inventiveness like the lyrics of Epic literally just describing the song as an unattainable, mysterious and juxtapositionally bewildering entity (You will never understand it, ’cause it happens too fast//And it feels so good, it’s like walking on glass — what the hell!?), have not seen such a successful light of day since those heady times.
Instrumentally, too, the stuff exploding out of this record is a trademark for FNM’s sound, and a footnote for so many inspirations for so many bands since. The guitars (brought to us by James Martin) are scraping, lovingly lacerating throughout in sparkling, frenzied loads of ammunition; the bass steamrolls, and it grooves (big uP Billy Gould); the drums (Mike Bordin) slam; the synths and keyboards add a necessary spice and dignified cheese (the legend, Roddy Bottum); and in all its unperturbed glory, this is music brazenly lacking pretense, playing blissfully and freely.
Following on from the barrage of palpable musical insanity that is the first three tracks, The Real Thing continues to surprise and to entertain throughout its entire 55-minute run-time between straight-up metal at its most tongue-in-cheek in Surprise! Your Dead! and the smokey lounge slow dancer album closer Edge of the World, which is unfitting in such a wonderfully fitting way for such a project. You’ve then got the grand old 8-minute title-track, showing off Patton’s vocal range in a rollercoaster of heavy breaks, climactic bridges and brilliantly composed quite-LOUD sections; and when you think that’s enough, the merry men throw a spruced up War Pigs cover and an intrumental-only nosedive into meandering madness called nothing less than Woodpecker from Mars.
If there is one criticism that can be drawn from Faith No More’s mad third record, though, is that a couple of its deep-cuts get a little lost in the ruckus of it all. Take The Morning After, for example, a stripped back inclusion owing more to the band’s time with Mosley. It’s a fun track, and great in its own right, but it doesn’t feel as grand or as momentous as the best on the album. While it’s strong across its entire run-time and the shovelings of ridiculousness keep on coming, it’s certainly a listen made up of quantifiable highlights, a notable sense of peak and troughs — part of the album’s major draw is not for its entirety, but often for the sake of listening to Epic, or at least in some minor sense. True too, it’s not music for all moods, huh. You’ve got to be ready to listen to this, that’s for sure — writing this article to this soundtrack is nOt a steady ride.
For however brilliantly entertaining it is, too, I feel like, from a retrospective point of view, Gould and co.’s full creative, fully off-the-wall range was still yet to be properly explored until 1992’s nigh-on interstellar visual-sound experience Angel Dust. I feel like that, to be honest, is Faith No More’s real magnum opus.
Still, make no mistake, a bit of criticism does not take away from what is a brilliant, constantly dumbfounding, effortlessly entertaining record.
What is it? You can touch it, smell it, taste it. It’s in your face but you can’t grab it. It’s alive, afraid, a lie, a sin. It’s magic, it’s tragic, it’s a loss, it’s a win…
Listening to this album leads to one resounding exclamation throughout: What the hell? And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because this. This, is The Real Thing.