For most, it’s about ‘Epic’ but for me it’s about throwing the shot put for Cardiff Amateur Athletics Club. The perfect FNM-esque odd combination…..
When I was younger, I was a bit athletic, in so much as I choose a sport that I felt required the least amount of work – the shot putt. I used to go to the (now demolished) Leckwith Stadium twice a week and meet a trainer that would would show me the ins and out of throwing. To be honest, the only reason I went was because a friend went there and I wanted to hang out with him so… that was the only option really. Although I did enjoy it after a while.
Throwing shot putt for Cardiff Amateur Athletics afforded me two opportunities to travel to competitions. One to Barry’s Jenner Park (which I won’t talk about as I was press-ganged into being part of the 400m relay team… the less said about that, the better) the other a trip to Carmarthen. I don’t really remember much about the competition. What sticks out about that experience was the two albums that I had on a cassette in my Walkman on the coach there and back. The first one was Mother’s Milk by the Red Hot Chili Peppers (more on that another time) and on the b-side was The Real Thing by Faith No More. On that 132 mile round-trip, I played the album over and over again. Soaking in its oddities, its melodies, its tunes.
No doubt I got into the band through the older brothers of friends, but I was captivated by the album; it’s melding of melody and rap and lounge and metal and funk and…and… and…. just the music really. Mike Patton has one of the most distinctive and richest voices in rock. And of course there was the hit. The song that starts with an E….
Opening with ‘From Out Of Nowhere’ we are greeted with the quintessential FNM sound, Roddy Bottom’s keyboards are prominent in the mix, Jim Martin’s guitars are blended in nicely, Bill Gould’s bass pops and fizzes with Mike Bordin’s drums and Mike Patton’s vocals soar over the top. It really does define the band’s style… something which I think lead to the different paths they took musically on later albums. The first thing I noticed, listening to it now in 2017 is how thin and “trebley” it sounds, it could do with a bit of beefing up. The whole album could, actually. Even the 2015 re-release sounds thin. Setting out their stall right from the get-go, it’s notable just how catchy the song is – the chorus is eminently singable, the buzz of the guitar battles for space with the keyboards. Then we have the song that broke the band, ‘Epic’. Combining funk, rap and metal it’s not hard to see how this became such a mega hit. From a sparse verse of drums, bass and vocals the song bursts into life with the chorus refrain “You want it all but you can’t have it”. When you think about it, it’s really a work of genius to merge such disparate styles together to create some thing this good, something that doesn’t sound like a trainwreck. Not content to go a repetitive fade out route, the band decide to introduce a piano outro that is a sublime escape. Where did that come from?!? And what the HELL is that video all about?!? Not content with a big 1-2 punch opening, FNM then proceed to slap us in the face with ‘Falling To Pieces’. With its tasty guitar licks and (again) a huge hooky chorus it’s hard to find a better opening three song run on any other album. The only one that springs to mind right now is Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
So after taking us behind the bike sheds to show us their melodic chops, FNM decide to get a little esoteric. ‘Surprise! You’re Dead’ is more of a straightforward rock song, no doubt Jim Martin was happy about that. It’s more abrasive than what we’ve heard so far and features a LOT of riffing and aggressive vocals from Patton. I’m buggered if I can hear any keyboards on there. So to settle the balance ‘Zombie Eaters’ follows with a gentle lilt. With Patton displaying the crooning talents he;d later take to full throttle on ‘Easy’, we drift along lulled into a false sense of serenity until about 2 minutes into when things take a more jagged turn with Patton imploring the listener to “Hug me, kiss me and wipe my butt and piss me”. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. The album’s title track is a study in shade and dynamics; muted percussion, soaring vocals and crashing guitar chords before it settles on a groove. At 8:13, it’s the longest track on the album and, to be honest, could do with a couple of minutes chopped off as it does outstay its welcome slightly.
The main features of ‘Underwater Love’ is Gould’s driving bass playing that keeps the song chugging along and Bottom’s church organ-esque keyboards. It’s a kind of forgettable song that feels longer than it actually is. A whole minute after the final chorus in fact.. A bit too much noodling although it’s redeemed somewhat by the rise in octave of the vocals in said final chorus. ‘The Morning After’ picks up pace and ears with some (more) sterling bass playing and some judicious crunch from Martin. There’s an interesting vibe in the verses with a delicately picked guitar which gives the vocals time to breath. The only instrumental on the album, ‘Woodpecker From Mars’ begins with a sort of cod-classical motif before the rest of the band come ploughing in to give the song some balls. It’s fascinating to hear the juxtaposition of keyboards and double time band. Plus, in a foreshadowing kind of way, there’s a breakdown that sound just a tiny bit like ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath…..
….speaking of which over the hillside comes the lumbering ‘War Pigs’. It’s not that it’s not good just nothing to write home about. It stays pretty true to the original in structure, the overall sound of the album REALLY lets this cover down: it lacks the weight that this song deserves. It does, however, have some crackers soloing from Martin towards the end, so every cloud etc. And rounding off the album (the version I had on that cassette at least) is ‘Edge Of The World’. To enjoy this song to its fullest, you must be wearing a dapper crushed velvet smoking jacket, a brandt, leather chair, wood-lined room and a cigar. But don’t get that comfortable after all, with Patton leering at you from within his lyrics it’s best to keep one eye on the door.
Before we go, let’s take a quick buzz through the bonus tracks from the 2015 re-release. ‘Sweet Emotion’ far from being an Aerosmith cover (now that would be interesting) was first released on a flexi-disc from Kerrang magazine. It’s good but the far superior version is the re-worked version that became ‘The Perfect Crime’ off the (excellent!) Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack (more on that album another time). ‘Epic (Radio Remix Edit)’ manages to shave off a minute from its album version, mainly in the solo section. It’s got a much louder, variant sounding snare drum and, I have to say, a weird mix. There’s extra vocals in the chorus and far more reverb/echo than is necessary. ‘Falling To Pieces (Matt Wallace Remix)’ does what it says on the tin. Again though, what’s with the reverb on the snare? Sounds like Puffy is playing in an empty arena. I also do NOT like the extra layered vocals in the chorus. Presumably they’re buried in the mix on album. It’s also shorter which doesn’t improve the song. Next we have two songs from the b-side of the ‘From Out Of Nowhere’ single: ‘Cowboy Song’ and ‘The Grade’. The former a keyboard drenched up-tempo rock song. I say drenched in that, for once, the keyboards are overpowering in the mix; pushed WAY high. Jim Martin was clearing channelling Thin Lizzy for his solo and melodies. And odd tune. The latter a jaunty little country blues instrumental that demonstrated that Martin wasn’t just a hairy metaller but could also turn his hand to other styles. Successfully too. ‘From Out of Nowhere (Extended Mix)’ is an interesting take on the song, extending some bits, chopping some bits out. But like most remixes, it’s ok if you’ve never heard it, you’re not missing anything life changing. ‘War Pigs” (Live in Berlin)’ abley displays Patton;s fondness for taking things to extremes vocally, live. The last four tracks are live. The first two taken from their 1990 gig in Sheffield, ‘Surprise! You’re Dead’ is as ramshackle as it should be and ‘Chinese Arithmetic’ from the album Introduce Yourself is decent too. Although both suffer (AGAIN!!) a case of excessive reverb. The last two from their 1990 show in Brixton, ‘Underwater Love’ almost drowns in the god-awful twang of Gould’s bass and Patton almost disappears up his ownnose, so nasal is his delivery. ‘As The Worm Turns’ rounds out the bonus disc and much like the previous three songs, it’s a curio but fairly insubstantial. If we’re going to include live material, I;d have much preferred a third disc with a complete show (or two) from that era.
I do love this album. It shares the top spot with Album Of The Year for me. It opened my young mind up to the idea that not everything has to be crunch-chug-riff-mosh. That there could be texture and melody and shade. It helped that the opening three cuts were, and are, sublime. If you ever want to demonstrate what FNM are about those are the three to begin with. Later, they would explore the musical landscape even more, to the point where Jim Martin would take umbrage and decide to quit. But then, that’s what makes FNM so special. They can blend genres and style into something unique, something that sounds right. On paper, it reads like a car crash of ideas that will result in aural bleach. But what we actually have is something far more engaging and interesting than you might expect. It’s easy to think that this is the influence of Mike Patton, given his work with Mr Bungle and Phantomas, but look at the writing credits: the primary songwriters are bassist Bill Gould and keyboardist (keyboarder?!) Roddy Bottum. Throw in the metal leanings of Jim Martin and the weight of Puffy Bordin and you truly have a musical melting pot that opened up a LOT of minds. Did ‘Epic’ help? Sure. But that song only scratches the surface of that which is the weird and wonderful world of Faith No More.