Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Top 5 Faith No More Songs

Originally published by RVA Magazine
 My favorite thing about Faith No More has always been the way they completely reinvented themselves for every album, sometimes (King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime, anyone?) for every song.  I can’t think of any group whose body of work is more diverse despite limitations in scope.  I completely discount the Chuck Mosley recordings (though I really like them) simply because the four albums featuring Mike Patton represent the band’s true legacy so far as I’m concerned. I think the need to constantly alter the sound of the band has a lot to do with Patton, given that the material took a left turn toward the bizarre as his influence grew and his later efforts clearly display a desire to explore new territory at every juncture.  Jim Martin would eventually be fired via fax once he lost all interest in the strange new shape FNM’s music had taken after finding success with heavy metal.

Another reason I love this band is because I think they provided us with some of the most compelling group efforts ever.  Too many acts rely too much on one or two star players while everyone else does their best to keep the machine running.  FNM has always showcased each of the contributors, and the vast array of musicians who have spent time in the line-up have always risen to the occasion.  Mike Bordin has drummed for Ozzy, Jerry Cantrell, and Korn when he wasn’t keeping perfect time for Faith.  Roddy Bottum is a keyboardist on par with Manzarek, and there’s no higher praise I could offer.  He is also an integral part of Imperial Teen, a delicious pop effort that I highly recommend.  Billy Gould is a terrific bassist who can put on a show or drive the bus depending on what he is called upon to do.  After Martin vacated the band, guitarists like Trey Spruance, Dean Menta, and eventual mainstay Jon Hudson have excelled at taking the music in exciting new directions.  And what can you say about Patton?  How many bands has he started?  This is the mastermind behind Fantomas, Tomahawk, and Peeping Tom, the frontman to end all frontmen, a showman with a set of pipes that must be heard to be believed.  Most importantly, much like his capable peers in this blistering ensemble (Jim Martin aside) Mike is always pushing the envelope, always searching for another twist or turn that his audience won’t expect.

Faith No More produced four albums during the Patton era, their defining era, and each is a unique composition boasting hit songs, though only one of those tracks (Epic) struck gold here in the states.  Some have even lumped FNM in the “one-hit wonder” file, though given their worldwide success and continued exposure here in the U.S. that would be inaccurate.  Their albums include their breakout rock effort, 1989’s The Real Thing, Angel Dust’s abstract metal mayhem, the zany glory of King for a Day, and a masterful farewell in 1997’s terribly unappreciated Album of the Year.  Singles included Epic, Falling to Pieces, Midlife Crisis, A Small Victory, Digging the Grave, Evidence, Last Cup of Sorrow, and Ashes to Ashes, though only Epic and Midlife Crisis scored big stateside.  The band also enjoyed success with covers of songs like Warpigs, Easy, the Midnight Cowboy theme, This Guy’s in Love with You, and I Started a Joke. 

          I enjoyed every album, and there isn’t really a song recorded by this group that I don’t like.  Faith No More has been my favorite band since I stumbled upon them in 1992, and they’ve given me a lot of joy along the way.  As I said earlier, choosing this Top 5 is going to be absurdly hard, but every man worth his salt loves a challenge. Let’s get to it.

1)    Digging the Grave from King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime
For me, this one isn’t that hard.  Digging the Grave is easily my favorite Faith No More song, and it is also among their most striking and aggressive.  This cut is a brilliant representation of what this stellar outfit has to offer.  It has heart, melody, power, and a score of virtuoso performances.  Patton is insane, Puffy (Bordin) is perfect, Gould is slamming his bass, and Trey Spruance delivered a jagged riff that holds this brief descent into utter despair together when it isn’t soaring like an eagle.  The song deftly transitions from poignant beauty to jarring metal throwdowns racing along to the tune of Patton’s banshee wail.  If this song doesn’t hype you up, neither will a shot of adrenaline.

2)    Epic from The Real Thing
This easy choice for casual fans will probably earn me some grief from hardcore fans, but its place here is well-deserved.  I think long-time fans hold a grudge against this track because it got played so much while the rest of the band’s output never really seemed to fit what was going on at the time on American soil.  Yes, it is annoying that so many people think of FNM as “that band who did Epic,” and certainly there were many other songs worthy of such recognition.  What gets lost in that train of thought is the fact that Epic is truly worthy of all the acclaim, and we can’t really hold it against the one big hit (their only Billboard Top Ten recording, peaking at #9 in the U.S.) that the rest of Faith’s work never really got the chance it deserved here in America.  Epic is a vibrant composition that remains one of the most well-known metal songs ever produced, a song that is continually referenced as an early fusion of rock and rap.  The Real Thing was a nifty album, and for once the hit single was actually the best track.  Jim Martin rips off an epic (forgive me) riff, Patton introduces us to his manic intensity, Billy bangs away, and Roddy closes the piece out in terrific fashion with one of his most haunting melodies, a defining element of the band’s solitary monster hit.

3)    Just a Man from King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime
This is one of the band’s most mellow and offbeat songs, a somber yet somehow uplifting opus.  It has a bit of spoken word thrown in for good measure and it concludes with a grand orchestra finale.  This song reminds me of an opera in scope and feeling, seeking to stir our emotions as a sonic odyssey unfolds before us.  This is one of those songs that can lift my spirits if I’m down, and it is one of my favorite songs to sing along to.  Listen to it a few times and see if you can avoid joining in on the gripping chorus.  Patton’s voice has never seemed so large or magnificent, and the entire piece has a sort of majesty that has always endeared it to me.  It is a great example of how far off the beaten path FNM was willing to follow their inspirations, whatever they may have been, and it stands as another fine example of what Faith No More could accomplish when everyone involved was firing on all cylinders.

4)    Stripsearch from Album of the Year
Here again is another offbeat track, an electronic slow grind with a rousing finish that is heavy on emotion and light on aggression, though there is real power at work during the heavy beats.  The video that accompanied this piece was one of the group’s finest though it received little stateside play, joining Epic, Midlife Crisis, and Digging the Grave among others on the surprisingly lengthy list of compelling videos produced by the band.  This is a great example of the confidence and the knowledge these superlative artists brought to the table the last time they sat down to record a studio album.  Album of the Year was destined to be 1997’s finest recording, just as it was destined to go unnoticed.  Much like King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime, the track listing is eclectic and the tone and mood veer wildly from song to song.  That’s seldom a recipe for success in the music industry as it exists here, though I’m sure such concerns mattered little to FNM at that point.  Whether such exploration dampens reception or not, it is precisely that brand of scattershot art that yields curious treasures like Stripsearch.  This is easily one of my favorite songs from my favorite band.

5)    Easy (cover) from Angel Dust (foreign) and Songs to Make Love To EP (U.S.)
I honestly like this cover more than the original, and while that remark may chafe some purists, the band is so sincere in their efforts and their chemistry here is so obvious that I imagine there are those who would agree with me.  The original is a fine song, don’t get me wrong, and despite being very faithful in structure, this is definitely a rock version of that R&B smash hit.  That it works so well is a testament to the band’s vision and ability.  These guys were never afraid of doing something different, and that allowed them to tackle songs from other genres without sacrificing their own daring approach in the process.  The video for this song is also highly entertaining, and once again everyone involved is allowed to strut their stuff.  Jim Martin blazes away on the awesome solo, rivaling Patton’s total devotion as the song builds and builds, carrying the band higher and higher in the pursuit of artistic bliss.  I would call this cover a genuine masterpiece, and it is one of the band’s most enjoyable hits.  Faith No More’s cover of Easy peaked at #3 in the UK and was the last song the band recorded to crack the top 100 here in the states, reaching #58 in 1993.

True story: me and some of the good old boys from humble Patrick County took a trip to the beach once, and we were taking turns picking songs along the way.  As we got closer to the beach, I started picking this track every time it was my turn, and instead of annoying the other guys, this led to some of them picking it as well.  It became our theme song that weekend, and I still think of partying for three days straight with some of my best friends every time I hear it.  I don’t doubt that we listened to Faith No More’s fantastic cover of Easy somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 times that weekend, and the true total may have been twice that.  I'm not sure, I was rather inebriated.  

Special added bonus: 6-10 wthout commentary

6)    Midlife Crisis from Angel Dust
7)    Ashes to Ashes from Album of the Year
8)    Evidence from King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime
9)    Falling to Pieces from The Real Thing
10) Helpless from Album of the Year

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