Leading off this week with the album that brought about the 1990’s before 1990 even hit. The album brought everything but the kitchen sink, though that was probably in there somewhere too.
Faith No More – The Real Thing
Released June 20, 1989 via Slash/Reprise Records
My Favorite Tracks – Epic, Falling To Pieces, Surprise! You’re Dead!
Faith No More had started as early as 1979, with a lot of shifting line-ups that at one point included Courtney Love. The core of the band was settled with drummer Mike Bordin, bassist Billy Gould, guitarist Jim Martin and keyboard player Roddy Bottum. Vocalist Chuck Mosley joined for the band’s first few albums but was fired in 1988.
Faith No More recorded the music for The Real Thing without a vocalist through ’88. They quickly focused their singer search on Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton, who joined Faith No More then wrote lyrics for all of The Real Thing over the course of a few weeks.
The album moved slowly out of the gate but would go on to success as the decade shifted and music tastes moved on from hair metal to alternative rock. The Real Thing lingered on MTV for a few years and Faith No More became a signpost for the major shift in music trends that shook the world in 1991.
Normally when I do an AOTW I leave off “bonus tracks” or things of that nature, but in the case of The Real Thing I will include two songs that were not available on vinyl but were on CD and cassette copies. I had the tape growing up so it’s the version I’m familiar with, so the two non-vinyl cuts are included here.
From Out Of Nowhere
The album opener also served as the lead single. It is an uptempo affair with the bass and keyboard lines providing the main drive behind the song and Jim Martin’s guitar a bit more in the background. The song’s lyrical fare is pretty simple and is about meeting someone who takes your breath away on first sight but then the person is gone. The song quickly follows suit at a hair over three minutes, not lingering around long enough to know what hit you.
In the Faith No More lexicon, Epic is surely the band’s most-known song. This is a true kitchen sink song that could be listed under ten different genres and not be wrong. Funk-metal and alt-metal are probably the two main descriptors, though the song is also an early example of rap-metal.
The song’s meaning is very obscure, though Patton offered that he wrote it about sexual frustration. Most remember the very simple “it’s it – what is it?” repeated at the end of the track.
Epic was the band’s first major hit and remains today as their best-performing US single. The iconic video saw heavy MTV play and drew a lot of attention, this is one of the prime cuts of pre-grunge 1990 rock.
The fish in the video also became famous – the band were assailed by animal rights activists for allowing the fish to flop around out of water. Reports are that the fish did survive. The band also started a joke that the fish belonged to singer Bjork and either she gave the band the fish or they stole it from her, a gag that Bjork went along with. This of course led to widespread belief that the story was true.
Falling To Pieces
The funk metal train continues on with another album single. Mike Patton expresses falling apart at the seams as the band slams through with more alt-groove and atmospheric keyboards. The single itself wasn’t a hit but again, the video was often found on MTV.
Surprise! You’re Dead!
A super heavy track that’s pretty simply about revenge killing someone. The song had a video filmed for it but was never released as a single.
Jim Martin actually began this song in the 1970’s while he was in a Bay Area band with future Metallica bassist Cliff Burton. While Burton has no connection to the song, he and Martin were great friends and Martin often paid tribute to Burton with shirts and in interviews.
A very interesting premise that sees lyrics told from the point of view of a newborn baby who relies on its parents for everything. The baby winds up being the dominant figure in the relationship, as the parent becomes a zombie in caring for the infant. The music is also really well done here, starting with a very moody intro before going into a heavy groove for the rest of the track.
The Real Thing
The title track serves as a bit of an “all you can eat buffet” of what Faith No More is about on this record. It covers both groove and atmospheric ground and shifts between movements and passages. It’s perhaps an underrated highlight of the record.
The upbeat music belies the lyrics actually being about murdering your loved one via drowning. A pretty trippy tune as the soundtrack to domestic discord.
The Morning After
The funk is in full effect here on this song that’s either about waking up after a one-night stand or becoming a vampire, no one is sure which. It’s a pretty rocking and peppy take on something that’s generally looked at through a gloomy lens.
Woodpecker From Mars
An instrumental that sounds like it’s based on some old piece of music but I can’t place it so I’m not sure. It’s a pretty nice tune that holds attention better than these kind of pieces in other places.
Here we have a cover of the famous Black Sabbath song. The band often performed this live, with Patton famously forgetting words and making up gibberish to fill the gaps. In the studio he got everything down right.
Edge Of The World
The other sort-of bonus track is a slow, jazzy/lounge piece. In it Mike Patton plays the part of an older man who makes advances on younger women. The song has been described in some circles as being about criminal acts but no actual evidence bears that out, this more of an old man of means preying upon young twenty-somethings. Sure it’s creepy but it’s legal creepy.
The Real Thing released to little fanfare but its audience built as Epic hit radio and MTV. The album would eventually hit platinum in the US and reach number 11 on the Billboard charts, while also getting platinum in Australia and peaking at 2 on its album chart. It also got a gold certification in the UK and is believed to have sold upwards of 4 million copies worldwide.
Faith No More would have vast influence over the music of the coming decade. They were a primary favorite of up-and-coming acts, members of Korn have practically written a book about how much they were into FNM while coming up. Faith No More’s ability to craft songs outside the confines of rock structure at the time led them to being a torch-bearer for many musicians who would make their own mark.
As an aside it’s worth noting that not everyone was entirely into Faith No More – specifically Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis. Kiedis was unhappy about Mike Patton’s appearance in the Epic video, believing Patton to have copycatted Kiedis. While Kiedis kept his criticisms along those lines, it’s apparent that Faith No More and RHCP would be compared as their music was along similar lines. Patton did not engage Kiedis in the feud, at least as a member of Faith No More, but did express displeasure with him later due to RHCP interfering with a Mr. Bungle album release. The other members of both bands were not involved in the feud and reportedly got along well.
In the end the music is what matters, and Faith No More brought an album that would help transition music from its 1980’s rock phase into the more experimental period of the 1990’s. While Epic was the band’s most successful song, it’s arguable if The Real Thing is their biggest album, as the follow up Angel Dust did similar numbers and is hailed as a masterpiece in its own right. Obviously another story for another time.