Finally, Faith No More return after a break of 18 years. 18 years. That’s millions. When bands disappear and come back like this, it’s almost always a disaster. There’s a danger that they’d be trying too hard, or that they’ve reformed for the wrong reasons: It’s tempting to wonder which one of them has the expensive divorce to pay for, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Not if you listen to the music. It seems, strangely enough, as if they just want to make music as Faith No More, presumably because during 18 years of a FNM vacuum, they realised that no one else is going to do it.
The reformed FNM is the post Big Jim Martin / Angel Dust iteration, which suits me. Big Jim’s FNM vision was always as a band where the guitar solo featured prominently. After ditching Martin, FNM ditched the guitar solo, cliché that is. There’s guitar on the record, of course, and John Hudson gets his time in the sun, but there’s no shrill posturing. The whole guitar god thing is pretty limiting, and this is a group who refuse to be limited. With Patton’s writhing, screaming, dramatic rendering at the front, you’re best off not being pigeonholed. Faith No More have never comfortably fit within the confines of any one genre, which has been scarier for the music press and average metal/grunge fan than the band.
Opening with the title track, an odd little number pivoting around a piano riff that sounds almost spontaneous, suggests that maybe they’ve diverged from their own particular path. Previous albums liked to start out aggressively, daring you to continue, unsubtly questioning your stomach for the fight. This time you’re lulled into a false sense of security. The second track, ‘Superhero’, wouldn’t have felt out of place on King for a Day or Angel Dust, classic FNM, full of uninhibited, hyperactive vocals, Billy Gould’s trademark propelling, metallic bass, the tinkling piano in the refrain. They’re back, baby. Like they’ve never been away.
The rhythmic chunkiness of ‘Separation Anxiety’ could be a standout, a constantly agitated piece of music that gets under your skin. On ‘Cone of Shame’ Patton’s doing his best Tom Waits, until they change direction and he’s wailing in that way only he can. Like many vocalists trapped in one, constantly fighting with each for dominance. You just never know which Patton is going to turn up, but you know that the passion’s real. Very real. What’s he’s on about? I don’t think I want to know. I don’t think it matters. The lilt of a melodica on ‘Rise and Fall’ is delicious, without seeming ironic or arch. It just works. ‘Motherfucker’: The pure brazen joy in the repetition of profanity becoming a mantra. Inevitably, it was the album’s first single. Matador’s treacly black melody is straight from the pre-millennium, peeling back the years. 18 was it? Crikey.
‘From the Dead’ finishes it up. “Welcome home, my friend”, croons Patton. Possibly referring to himself and his bandmates. It has that melodic, mid-seventies, incongruous pop thing they love to tack on to the end of a record; jangling acoustic guitar, a heavenly choir. Proving that along with the muscularity, the humour is still there, and it’s all backed up by pure ability. Yeah, they can still play.
If, like Big Jim, you consider The Real Thing to be the apex off the group’s achievement, you may be disappointed. While this isn’t a forage into the future, it certainly isn’t a hark back to the days of Bermuda shorts and catchy pop-metal. Lacking the technical gadgetry that almost ruined Album of the Year, (but didn’t) the closest antecedent is King For A Day. So either they’ve not moved on in 20 years, or they were decades ahead of their time. The things is that they’re just unique, no one else really sounds like FNM, and all the Black Sabbath cover versions in the world can’t hide the fact that they can’t help but sound like themselves. Their peculiar chemistry is exactly what I wanted from this record. Sneering, sardonic, loud, hyperactive, unable to stick in any one musical rut. And Patton, he’s still weird, he’s still angry, even if he’s not. He’s still got it. They all do. Thank god.