By the time that Faith No More released their album Angel Dust just over a week after my 14th birthday, I was already a big fan. After watching ‘From Out Of Nowhere’ from the previous record on the long defunct ‘Chart Show’ on ITV in 1990 I went straight out and bought it with my paper round money. Little did I know at the time that The Real Thing was their third album and that the band had gone through many line-up changes since their inception in 1981.
A whole succession of vocalists had come and gone – even a brief stint by none other than Courtney Love in the very early days. Chuck Moseley had been the singer (if you can call it singing) for the first two records; 1985’s We Care A Lot and Introduce Yourself from 1987, but he was eventually ousted due to his very erratic behaviour and replaced by Mike Patton who was then gigging with his high-school band Mr Bungle.
Despite including songs titles such as ‘Surprise, You’re Dead’ and ‘Zombie Eaters’, The Real Thing was very much a lightweight version of Faith No More’s sound – sounding somewhat rushed in places, mainly due to Mike Patton having to write all of the lyrics in the space of a fortnight before recording started. Their much heavier sound came to the fore with 1992’s Angel Dust.
The first thing that strikes you when the album begins is Patton’s voice. If you had heard the previous record then you could be forgiven for thinking that the band had decided to ditch another vocalist. But this wasn’t the case, Patton had re-invented himself (as he has numerous times since) and the days of bicycle short-wearing tomfoolery were over; his voice seemed to have dropped for a second time in between records. What Angel Dust provides the listener with is something that the band hadn’t managed to do before or have done since – a collection of near-faultless songs which never stray into novelty territory. OK, ‘RV’ does tend to come very close to the novelty line but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
Here’s a rundown of the tracks from the original version of the album (which thankfully doesn’t include their completely needless cover of ‘Easy’ by the Commodores);
- ‘Land of Sunshine’ – Like I say, this is where Patton’s vocals come into their own, and this also features an awesome bass line from Billy Gould. The brilliant chorus manages to sound like some kind of ghoulish fun fair with Roddy Bottum’s eerie keyboard riff and Patton’s layered laughing vocal in the background.
- ‘Caffeine’ – One of the best songs on the record and where guitarist Jim Martin’s filthy guitar sound really comes good. Always excellent live and brings back memories of a classic performance on MTV where the band refused to let the presenters speak once they’d finished; instead deciding the scream and thrash around for another 30 seconds or so.
- ‘Mid Life Crisis’ – Released a couple of weeks before the album, this song (and accompanying video) are the perfect introduction to the record as a whole. Patton’s vocals change from the guttural in the verse to something a little more reminiscent of the previous album. Watching Patton being almost pulled apart by horses in the video is a little unnerving, but that only acts as a reference of some of the material to come.
- ‘RV’- …. And so we come to ‘RV’. If there is one song on the album that could be classed as novelty then it’s this one. It’s a great song in itself however, with Patton playing a lazy bum no doubt sat in the ‘recreational vehicle’ of the title whilst the band play a little bluesy-country type number in the background before rocking out for the middle eight.
- ‘Smaller and Smaller’ – This one is a straight-down-the-line rock song. Towering guitars and powerful vocals. The only difference is that Faith No More, not wanting to be outdone in the weird stakes, decide to include a funky middle eight with some middle-eastern chanting. As you do.
- ‘Everything’s Ruined’ – This is one of the more accessible songs on the record without actually being too poppy (despite the incredibly lame, low-budget green screen video). Roddy’s keyboards are used to good effect and aren’t buried under layers of guitar like they tend to be in much of the rest of the album.
- ‘Malpractice’ – Ouch. This one is pretty heavy and no doubt one of Jim’s favourites as his guitar is dirtier than a rainy weekend in Glastonbury. Again, they confound what we should expect by introducing a mini dream sequence followed by a sample of some strings from Shostakovich half way through. Patton screams his way through this four minute monolith like there’s no tomorrow.
- ‘Kindergarten’ – The weakest song on the album, musically and lyrically but still listenable. But sadly, if there was a 12-song limit on albums I fear this would be the one to make way on Angel Dust. Lazily written and the band just don’t sound like they want to be there.
- ‘Be Aggressive’ – Which is why we have this song to thank as being the one you can skip to. This is a fun track – typical FNM funk-rock with Roddy’s keys high in the mix once again. Plus of course the ‘chorus’ of school kids spelling out the words ‘B-E-A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E’ is a moment to savour.
- ‘A Small Victory’ – Dark, brooding and accompanied by a video equally dark and brooding, centred seemingly around the First World War. A killer chorus and middle eight (which features Roddy’s take on air-raid sirens) make this one of the stand out tracks on the album.
- ‘Crack Hitler’ – Another reference to wartime here, but more of a reference to the drug. Not clear whether it is autobiographical of Patton’s drug use or not, but it’s still a powerful piece of spoken word, but Jim’s guitars getting a little bit of pedal treatment.
- ‘Jizzlobber’ – If there’s one thing that ‘Jizzlobber’ isn’t then that is subtle. In fact it’s about as subtle as being hit in the face with a house brick. The pleasant night time chirping of crickets is soon replaced with a Psycho style piano riff and some of the heaviest guitars you’ll hear outside of the death metal section of your local record store. Coming in at seven minutes, it is uncomfortable listening in the extreme, but you still won’t be able to stop yourself.
- ‘Midnight Cowboy’ – Probably better off ending with the heavenly organ of ‘Jizzlobber’ rather than with a cover version, but as cover versions go this isn’t bad – it isn’t great either, it’s pretty faithful of the John Barry original.
So if you’ve not heard it before (and there’s a good chance you haven’t, it is 20 years old after all) then hopefully this retrospective might give you an idea what to expect!
A big thanks to our guest contributor Ben from the great music blog Ben Likes Music.
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“8.‘Kindergarten’ – The weakest song on the album, musically and lyrically…”
I totally disagree!!!
I also disagree about Kindergarten, its one of my faves. To each his own I guess, but I’d say that maybe thinking about the song in a different way (making yourself list reasons why its a good song) might change your mind. I just love the sound of the harmonics, the rhythm, everything really.
As for ‘Small Victory,’ I never thought of it as dark and brooding, it was always more of an upbeat happy song for me, regardless of what the lyrics or the video suggest. But to each his own, not trying to change any minds here, I think thats the interesting part about all of this….that there can be so mayn ways of hearing and thinking about a song.
hmm…i dont think you had a very good listen to this album.
“kindergarten” their weakest lyrically and musically??? “a small victory” you say is “dark and brooding”??? and “smaller and smaller” you say is “a straight-down-the-line rock song”??? i think you need to listen to the album again, in full. every song. sober. not drunk. not high. and on a good sound system. no distractions. and also…mike patton doesn’t do drugs and he never had any issues with drugs.
Thanks for your comments. I hadn’t really ever considered ‘A Small Victory’ upbeat but like you say, each to his own. I’ve often thought of it as a revenge song – not sure why, perhaps it’s the thought of a 14 year old that has remained.
I seem to have hit a nerve with ‘Kindergarten’ and yes, in retrospect of the retrospective then maybe I have been a little harsh on it, especially considering ‘RV’ is on the same record. I just think that sometimes the lyrics let it down – again, just a personal opinion and you’re all more than entitled to yours. Thanks for reading anyway!
RV and Kindergarten are two of my favs on this. If I was to pick out a song with cheesy tendencies it is Be Aggressive.
Kindergarten is a brilliant song that breaks down the middle section of the album perfectly especially after the onslaught of Malpractice.. Crack Hitler is more than just a spoken word rumblings from Patton! it could have been a straight forward funk number but FNM turn it into something a lot more interesting with it’s spy/James Bond leanings..Not sure if you’ve listen to the album more then once but it does seem a different take then most have out there..but each to their own and thanks for bringing this album to attention..great choice.
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