Thursday, March 19, 2015

Discography Rediscovered: Faith No More's "The Real Thing" (1989)

I recently began listening to The Real Thing again after hearing that Faith No More was coming out with their first new album in 18 years. Like Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine (the subject of my first Discography Rediscovered) I used to listen to The Real Thing (TRT) a lot in high school. And just like Nine Inch Nails I stopped listening to Faith No More around the time I went off to college.

The Real Thing was the first FNM album to feature Mike Patton on vocals. Previously the band was led by Chuck Mosley, who was kicked out from the band due to narcolepsy (he supposedly would fall asleep mid-set). Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, FNM had already gone through several other lead singers including a stint by Courtney Love at some point. TRT was almost done when they brought on Patton, and you can definitely tell he had to adjust his singing style to compensate, especially when compared to later FNM albums. His voice is somewhat nasally and I find that it's often difficult to understand the lyrics because of this.

The album kicks off with "From Out of Nowhere."  The video for the song (which I've never seen until a week ago) captures FNM's, and especially Patton's style of the time, which might be best described as "kinetic". Watch this video and it becomes easy to compare FNM to one of their contemporaries, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Both FNM and Red Hot Chili Peppers rose to popularity around the same time in the late 80s but if you didn't know that when watching this video you'd think Patton was straight copying Anthony Kiedes' style. Compare this video with RHCP's video for "Higher Ground" which came out the same year and note their similar look, dance style, and even hair.

With both bands hailing from California you could say that Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More were two sides of a similar coin with RHCP being the sunshine-and-heroin funk of SoCal, and FNM being their stoned fog-drenched brothers to the north. It's a bit odd of a comparison to make for me as I really dig FNM but have little love for RCHP.

The second track on TRT and arguably the band's most well-known song is "Epic". With a bizarre music video that only matches the bizarreness of the lyrics, Patton raps and sings a strange number about... it? He keeps referring to "it" but never quite says what "it" is. If you listen closely I think the song is meant as a bit of commentary on consumer culture, with the listener being told how much they should desire "it". Anyways, though it's the band's most famous song it's somewhat of an oddity because this is the only song of FNM's where Patton raps.

The next track "Falling to Pieces" was the follow up to "Epic", and while it shares a similarly strange video it's a perfectly fine song but not necessarily one of my favorites.

Patton's weirdness really starts showing on the bizarrely named "Zombie Eaters". A mellow acoustic guitar gives way to Patton singing from the perspective of a baby. It sounds like a ballad, like Patton might be singing a tender song about his little baby... but then at 2:00 a chugging guitar kicks in and the song takes on a much more menacing vibe. Now it's the baby talking about how he loves to make his parent's lives miserable. There's some real choice lyrics here, like:
Hey look at me lady
I'm just a little baby
You're lucky to have me
I'm cute and sweet as candy
As charming as a fable
I'm innocent and disabled
So hug me and kiss me
Then wipe my butt and piss me
Trust me, this song is chilling once you have your own baby.

At the middle point of the album sits perhaps its most ambitious song. The titular track "The Real Thing" is a sprawling eight plus minute song that comes the closest to a FNM ballad. Just like in "Epic", the real "thing" being described is never fully articulated. For years I've thought the lyrics were referencing the moment of sexual climax but now I'm not so sure. It could also be about the pleasure derived from drugs but then I've read that Patton doesn't partake in any illegal substances (which is amazing considering the overall strangeness of FNM's lyrics). Regardless, it's one of my favorites.

"The Morning After" and "Underwater Love" are fine but I tend to skip them. The awesomely titled "Woodpecker from Mars" is an instrumental appearing late on the album and comes with a slight Arabic tinge.

The second to last track is a cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs". The AMG review (written by Ned Raggett - we seriously have eerily similar tastes in music) notes that this cover "amusingly backfired on the band -- at the time, Sabbath's hipness level was nonexistent, making it a great screw-you to the supposed cutting edge types." If only FNM could foresee that Ozzie would become a reality TV star.

The final track once again allows Patton to indulge in some of his zanier tendencies. "Edge of the World" can only be described as sleazy lounge music. Hell, it even inclues the sounds of a sleazy lounge in the background with swilling drinks and men quietly muttering. Sung from the perspective of a sleazy old man who's trying to convince a younger woman to let him be her sugar daddy (he's only 40 years older than her!), it's one of Patton's songs where he's taking on a particular character. The follow up album, Angel Dust, would include several of these character songs.

I do really enjoy this song - it's just an easy listen and a good unwind after the frenetic-ness of the previous few songs and it's even kind of charming. Strangely I remember this track being somewhere in the middle of the album, which I had on cassette.  Wikipedia tells me that I am indeed not having a bout of dementia and that the cassette release did place "Edge of the World" at track six, so there you go.

Faith No More would go on to make two more albums before breaking up. Patton went on to the band Mr. Bungle and became involved more in avant-garde rock. It makes sense, he seemed to like jumping around and trying out different styles and sounds, something much more prevalent in the follow up Angel Dust (which may be the subject of a future entry).

That's it for this round of Discography Rediscovered, until next time.


Little Earl said...

Did you just continue a blog series to which you hadn't added a new post in almost ... three years? This is like the Terence Malick of blog series.

I'm the proud "owner" of This Is It: The Best of Faith No More (and also the first Mr. Bungle album), but sometimes a Best Of compilation doesn't paint the full picture, and after clicking on most (if not all) of your links, I'm starting to think I should have acquired this album instead. The Best Of didn't get AMG's "album pick," so maybe I should have known better. I think I wanted one disc with "We Care A Lot" and "Easy" on it.

But as quasi-alternative/sorta mainstream late '80s/early '90s bands go, I like 'em. What's interesting about Faith No More is that they weren't hair metal, but they weren't quite grunge either. "Epic," for instance, is more idiosyncratic than typical late '80s stadium rock, but it's still glossier than Nirvana or Pearl Jam. I think I hear a synthesizer back there, and maybe a horn section? And yes, when Patton starts rapping, it sounds like a Chili Peppers song, but then when he starts singing in that somewhat high-pitched voice, it sounds like ... early Bowie? And then the new age piano comes in, and all genre tags are rendered futile.

I'm also impressed with how their cover of "War Pigs" is straightforward and extremely faithful to the original, and yet I find it very enjoyable nonetheless. They didn't deliberately change anything around, but they brought so much energy to it that it doesn't sound like a pointless retread. At first I thought, "Who puts a cover on a Best of album?," but when I listened to it, I have to say I agreed with its inclusion.

Herr Zrbo said...

I believe that AMG suggests Angel Dust as their best/"start here" album. I can see why critics would think it's the better album, it's surely more artistically ambitious. But then, there's something about The Real Thing that I enjoy a bit more. Perhaps it's that Angel Dust is a bit darker, where TRT is a bit more fun.

Yeah, the band was a bit too early to be considered "alternative", but they definitely don't fall into hair metal (or even just 'metal'). FNM does have a keyboardist. Strangely coincidental, there was an article on the A.V. Club just yesterday about him.