I never expected Faith No More to get back together. So the six years on and off of reunion shows were a beautiful bonus. I never expected a new album. I really wasn’t sure I wanted one. I had succumbed to the fallacy that says that reunited (and it feels so good) bands habitually besmirch their legacy. So when the reunion looked to be petering out in 2012, I accepted it with a mix of resignation and relief.
Sure, Matador had sounded magisterial since the first time it was played in Buenos Aires in November 2011. I had the great privilege of being side stage when they played at the Belgrade Calling festival in June 2012. It allayed any doltish doubts that this band would not deliver amazing new music but it also seemed merely an epilogue to Faith No More 2.0.
Fast forward to August 2013 and I got word that new music might be in the offing. Work had begun,. Things were happening. It was time to resuscitate this site. The excitement rose, the impatience and the need for instant gratification of a true 21st century boy swelled and then…Finally I heard Superhero and Motherfucker in Hyde Park last summer and Bill confirmed that the album was in progress. The 17-year wait would become an even longer 9-month one – a pregnant pause until Sol Invictus.
Motherfucker served as a perfect – foie gras? – taster, pleasing on the palate despite the profanity but leaving us wanting more. That came with Superhero – an adrenaline-fuelled multi-layered out-and-out rocker that confirmed that the band remain energised and relevant if not repugnantly current with all its Cowellesque connotations.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had a preview stream for a little while and have listened to the record non-stop for weeks. So much so that my little boy now demands that Faith No More to be played in the car and occasionally shouts out “Buy it” from Black Friday when he feels like it.
And make no mistake, this album requires and rewards repeat listening and almost total immersion. It gives up delights and pleasures and shock and awe with each new listen. It’s fresh but redolent of the band’s best work; dark but with trademark humour and a resurrection theme; energetic and even pummeling in places but considered and calm where you least expect; epic in scale and conception but short at less than 40 minutes; dominated by the chameleonic and highly skilled vocals of Mike Patton but a truly group effort helmed by Bill Gould and featuring sublime but never showy musicianship.
Roddy’s keyboards signal the band’s return (just as his vocals and lyrics did chronologically with the Motherfucker single) before Mike Bordin’s martial beat comes in. A whispered opening from Patton and those lyrics! The band have deigned not to publish lyrics with this album which makes sense given that Patton has often said – and repeated again recently to Hard rock France – that the sounds of the words matter more than the meaning. And of course lyrics can look denuded and dry and sometimes ridiculous when written down. But here the lyrics declare that Faith No More mean business.
I’m coming lord, I’m on my way
Worshiping at the alter of no-one
Can’t remember which god is my one
Can’t repent at the wrong
Empty rituals, trinkets and fossils
And now lord, I’m on my way…
Immediately we have the key themes of the album – faith and lack of it, death, the sun, resurrection. The song has an almost choral quality and is underpinned by a nagging riff (reflecting Patton’s doubt? – “Wheres my faith?/ We ruined today /I believe in something, I think/ Where’s my faith?). A statement of intent in every way. We’re on our way; we still have faith (no more), we’ll go at our own pace. The track also serves as a wonderful bookend with From the Dead. It’s not for nothing that the opening words on the album are “I’m coming lord, I’m on my way” and the closer is “I can see the end/ Welcome home my friend”.
And the songs ends with that isolated piano – knowingly or not referencing the band’s biggest and best-known song.
The segue between that piano outro and the much more uptempo piano intro into Superhero is tantalising as the second single and second track goes right for the jugular. Roddy’s keys dominate, the melodic focus but Jon Hudson’s Batman redux riff here is sublime and Marvel-ous. I’ve tried and failed to decipher the lyrics here a few times so won’t go into great detail but the song appears to be a thinly-concealed critique of the world’s only superpower – the leader of men/get back in your cage – as it tries and fails to be a superhero?: “Put the the S on your chest, You’re feeling like a God/ An order of animal/ With that divine right”. Are we setting ourselves up to be false gods? And the sun and resurrection offers redemption: “Ain’t no grave going to hold this body down /The sun rises here to save us now/ Its all erased”
On a purely musical note, the song is driven by some Roddy’s best lead keyboards in FNM history but also features a searing solo from none other than Bill.
Sunny Side Up
“I’ll be your leprechaun/ Shamrock, a lucky charm” I’ll readily admit that I cringed when I first heard this lyrics – maybe an oversensitive Irish reaction to the shamrock reference. The song also seemed too sugary and sweet at first listen and took time to reveal its hidden depths and duality. Patton’s vocals are at his most soulful here. It seems like a light-hearted pop ditty but the chorus vocals which kick in at 55 seconds are vicious and the lyrics take a turn from bubblegum pop to the vulnerability that makes underpins most great pop songs: “I am just a grain of sand on your beach/ With all of my heart/ Cut out my heart/ A drop of rain through your hands”. Then some classic soul with the gorgeous couplet “Rainbows will bend for me/ Curvy/ Honeybees will sting for me/ Stingy, stingy”. A day when everything is perfect – but still thoughts of worthlessness, significance creep in. or maybe as Mike Bordin says – it’s just about having sex in the morning. “Come on ride my wave” indeed.
I almost cried when I first heard Separation Anxiety for the first time. It was the confirmation I needed that this was going to be a classic album. All the elements I’ve loved were here in abundance starting with that bassline. This was Angel Dust updated and tweaked and twisted into starting new shapes. There is menace and swagger and crawling, creeping fear. Never before has such an accurate portrayal of, well, separation anxiety been recorded: the neediness, the fear, the self-loathing, the growing terror. This is the kid from Zombie Eaters is all grown up and even more clingy, needy and helpless than before.
It’s like when your mind
Has a mind of it’s own
Please take mine
Don’t leave me alone
Then at around one minute in, guitar comes in and panic turns to terror. It is a disturbing and stunning character study of a mine getting more and more unhinged:
I can’t let you go
Cause you’re a part of me
Not apart from me
Yes a little sign for me
Well, It’s good enough for me
I can not separate
From this anxiety
This hits home on a visceral, emotional and intellectual level and Patton is at his menacing and soaring best. The distorted vocal heightens the tension before the leveee breaks at around 2:33 leading to quite a bit of in-car head-banging from FNM 2.0 on several occasions. Patton’s “Gouging/Closing my eyes” manic pleas and Hudson’s frenzied solo take over as the song comes to an all-too-early conclusion.
Cone of Shame
The pace slows briefly for Cone of Shame and the Link Wray style guitar that Bill Gould had foreshadowed in interviews. It is certainly a new sound for Faith No More and again suits the cinematic scope of the album. This is Jon Hudson at his finest, never showy but showing what a brilliant technician he is as he gets just the right tone for this Morricone-style opening. There are now two distinct periods in anyone’s life. The time before 2.13 seconds into this song and the time after. When Patton shouts boom and the song metamorphoses into a brutal beast. Rock music does not get better than this:
I’d like to peel your skin off
So I can see what you really think
Or if there is anything
Under that cone of shame
I’d like to strip the bone off
So I can see how you’re really made
And see how you really take
Your special pleasure
I’d like to pull your wings off
Read your lines like a gypsy
Just as lonely as anything
A relationship disintegrates and explodes into aggression and mutual loathing, the pay-off from 2.13 set up by that glorious guitar and Patton’s almost spoken-word introduction to a wild west duel.
If Sol Invictus and From the Dead are the complementary bookends of this album, Separation Anxiety and Cone of Shame are its meaty heart and only the most disciplined listener will resist the urge to rewind, repeat and revisit these thunderous tracks.
Rise of the Fall
The bouncy Rise of the Fall is certainly a new departure for Faith No More but the UK new-wave sounds that influenced early FNM are writ large. In fact, the song is almost full-on ska and two-tone in places. It would not be FNM if the song’s buoyancy was not set off by some edgy guitar and Patton screams and some downright disconcerting imagery that seems to evoke a post-apocalyptic world.The song is insanely catchy, unlike anything the band have previously conjured and has not been played live for some reason – maybe because of the multiple guitar layers that give the song real texture. To be honest, there is more going on in this song along that in all the songs that have featured in the Billboard top 100 for the past year put together.
The groove continues for Black Friday, the album’s seeming critique of consumerism. There are some great couplets in this stop-start ebullient rocker.
Step right up, donate a memory
To the bank of love who could loan your daydreams…
Buy me a future regret
A shrink-wrapped fantasy that I won’t forget
And that urgent Buy it! refrain comes right at you backed by aggressive buzzing guitars. And some more great lyrics – All the zombies warm to black Friday, It’s a riot at the salad-bar – before the aggression really kicks in. The overall theme of the record is also evident just below the surface – “This ]life] is only a test”. For those taking a very literal interpretation of the theme of the album as the band’s rebirth, it is worth noting that Faith No More released their comeback single on Black Friday – “only a test”.
The lead single sounds richer and Roddy more sinister in the album cut and makes a much clearer impression within this set of songs that in isolation. The first verse can be explicitly interpreted as an indictment of mass over-consumption or over-the-top mass consumption. The final lines suggest an escape from this cage but only after embracing a nemesis; by getting the motherfucker on the phone. Alternatively the lyrics could be self-referential. The band, under the previous record industry paradigm, were force-fed to produce. They were products of their own MTV-fueled epic success. The second stanza can be seen as the band’s return. They are setting aside their scruples, picking at their bloody scabs and getting immunised against being once again exposed. As Benrun mentioned in Comments, the titular Motherfucker could well by the record company that FNM had to get on the phone to escape from their contractual obligations before their rebirth could begin in earnest: “Hello Motherfucker /My lover /You saw it coming /Goodbye Motherfucker/ My lover /You had it coming”.
The band are now reborn, free to produce such bold multi-part Miltonian masterpieces as Matador. Of course, the song can be seen as a spiritual rebirth after the decline and fall and over consumption of the previous two songs in the cycle.
This initially sounds less meaty on record than in the familiar live version but again it offers fresh pleasure, especially Jon Hudson’s guitar from about the 4:15 point. It also includes some of the best lyrics on the album:
“We will be when you will be no more
We served you well
Now we’re coming back
Hudson’s solo from 5:35 is simply stunning and adds a whole new dimension from the live version and symbolises fittingly the band’s rebirth – “And the dead live /What more can we give?”
From the Dead
Matador is the album’s climax and thus From the Dead serves perfectly as the record’s closer. We want more but we’re slowly coaxed down from our high by this soothing and heartfelt celebration of being back. A song to put a smile on your face while tears run down your face.
I defy you not to get inappropriately emotional as Patton croons: “Coming ’round the bend /Welcome home my friend /Cos I’m the only one weeping like a canyon gorge /Hear your lion roar
Any other band would have started with this but FNM perversely by being welcomed back:
Welcome home my friend
Billy’s slide guitar adds a real emotional kicker just as Patton intones one final “Welcome home my friend”. Thematically, our character has risen and returned to the fold, in the afterlife. More prosaically, Faith No More have risen From the Dead.
Personally speaking, this is my favourite Faith No More record since Angel Dust. But that’s always going to be subjective. Certainly, it fits perfectly into the Faith No More canon. Put simply, it is better than most diehard fans and more impartial critics expected and certainly nowhere near as bad as we sometimes feared.
It is a holistic record, one that harks back to an almost bygone era before shuffle play and playlists, when albums existed as cohesive collections. Thus, it is more than the sum of its parts but what parts they are – from the insanely catchy in Sunny Side Up, the brutal in Separation Anxiety, the bitter in Black Friday, the redemptive in From the Dead and the Miltonian in Matador.
Thematically, it can be interpreted as an examination of the rise and fall of an empire or civilization; an examination of life, death and rebirth; of artist death and rebirth or a series of slightly connected but only obliquely connected series of small fictions, as Patton himself has said, like a David Mitchell novel.
It is, of course, not as pioneering as Angel Dust and KFAD were at the time but it breaks new ground and shows that rock music can still be pulled in new directions. Some critics have argued that the sound has not been updated to reflect modern trends in music. But in a world where Mumford and Sons, Imagine Dragons and Coldplay are alternative rock, what exactly should Faith No More be learning from contemporary acts? I’m not sure there is a whole lot new in metal that they could be incorporating either.
Some have also argued that there is not enough guitar up front and that’s true but Roddy’s keyboards largely take the role of lead guitar. In any case, Faith No More have always been built on the rhythm section of Gould and Bordin, and the fact that they and Roddy worked on the song structures first is clearly evident. Rather than being over-the-top or over-produced, I also find Patton’s vocals nuanced and in context here.
Overall, the album packs so much in 40 minutes and is more than even the most demanding FNM fan could have dreamed of. It is full of rich lyrical imagery and clever musical ideas and directions.
Now, being the demanding ungrateful bastards that we are, we want more. And what this album illustrates more than anything is that Faith No More still have so much more to give as a potent. creative and dynamic musical force.
We served you well
Now we’re coming back