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Class ?

Main Category: Hard Rock
Also applicable: Heavy Metal, Funk/R'n'B, Meta-Rock
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1985
Overall rating =

"Synth-metal" is a good idea - in theory. In real life, it can be unhealthily depressing.

Best song: WE CARE A LOT

Track listing: 1) We Care A Lot; 2) The Jungle; 3) Mark Bowen; 4) Jim; 5) Why Do You Bother; 6) Greed; 7) Pills For Breakfast; 8) As The Worm Turns; 9) Arabian Disco; 10) New Beginnings.

There is no denying, unless you're Apostle Peter and are ready to deny anything, that Faith No More came out with a well-prepared and reasonably innovative musical agenda. At least three of the band members - the keyboard player, the guitarist, and the Mosely guy - appear to be highly motivated, and by pooling their different backgrounds and interests come out with some real fresh stuff. The problem, then - and it's a problem that I don't encounter too often - is that this fresh stuff doesn't seem to be working. Or maybe it just works the wrong way in my case.

Theoretically, the actual sound they are getting is cool. Bluntly speaking, it's a cross between New Wave heavy metal, synth pop, and hip-hop. The rhythm section is hardly outstanding, but is assuredly competent, with Mike Bordin delivering steady, assured, professional crash-boom-banging, and Bill Gould's bass turned up so high in the mix so you can always follow the metallic, occasionally Iron Maiden influenced melodic lines. Jim Martin's guitar is technically flawless, but restrained, although that doesn't prevent him from chugging out big fat funk-metal riffs whenever he wants to. Roddy Bottum's keyboards are omnipresent, usually serving as the main melodic forepost for the band. They're pretty cheesy-sounding as far as Eighties keyboards go, but at least he knows how to play them so that you get out actual melodies rather than a puddle of bland adult contemporary mouthwash. And over all this, Chuck Mosely growls, screams, recites, or raps the lyrics in a not particularly unique, but at least energetic manner; lyrics that, for most of the time, are hip, smart, sarcastic, post-modern, and undisclosing (in terms of soul, that is).

This description doesn't help much, I suppose, but it's still better than your average shortie tag, including the "synth-metal" label I just made up. It's a weird, original synthesis, and a very conscious one at that - it's almost as if one of these guys wanted to be Depeche Mode, the other one wanted to be Metallica, and a third one wanted to be Public Enemy, and in the process of compromising they came out with this. And remember, no Mike Patton on the horizon! Yes, Faith No More were involved in bizarre redefinitions of musical values way before they teamed up with "Mr Bungle" - otherwise, why the heck would he want to team up with them in the first place?

And there is at least one great representative of that style on the album - the title track. Practically the only track that "survived" from that early era - having nothing to do with the music, of course, but rather with its smug, arrogant lyrics ridiculing the concept of charity benefits such as Live Aid and all that we-are-the-world stuff. Ha! You had to be a bunch of young hip cynics to come out with something like that. A better known artist from an older generation wouldn't have gotten away with it, because don't we all know the world's a bit too thick to get the double and triple entendre of lines like 'we care a lot about you people cause we're out to save the world'? (Actually, all the better known artists from older generations had already at some point taken part in some charity benefit or other, so they'd just be mocking themselves in the process).

Of course, I agree with the message - which is, of course, directed not against charity benefits as such but against overrating their importance - but that's not the main issue. The main issue is that the music takes you higher! as Sly would have remarked in his own cliched way. There's a good beat, there's a good hard rock riff, there's some moody keyboard shit, there are angry spitfire vocals that actually have a true symbolic meaning, and that ain't all: there's also the endlessly repeated line "well it's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it" which, in typical repetitive line fashion, just keeps on sticking and sticking in every vital organ of your (my) body. And it sounds frighteningly modern for 1985 - more modern, in fact, than a huge majority of the really modern stuff.

But after that it's goodbye yellow brick road all the way. In fact, if you're in a hurry to explore other limitless possibilities of our friend Music, you might as well shut the damn thing off after the first track, because nothing that would be better or even just as good is on the way. Why? It's hard for me to understand that. A standard answer like "it all sounds the same" certainly won't suffice. Apparently there's some kind of nasty parasitic virus concealed within this sound, and I can't lay my subjective hand on it. My current guess is that 'We Care A Lot' (the song) is pursuing a relatively precise, unassuming goal. It's their equivalent of the rock protest formula. A riff, a hook, some extra backing. But then it's like "okay, simple concise stuff over, time to prove the world we can do the enigmatic conceptual artist thing and yeah we like Martin Gore but he's really a wuss".

Immediately, up pop the keyboards - waves and waves of them. Up pop heavy guitar riffs consisting of one, at best two chords, because three chords already peg you as an aspiring Iron Maiden disciple (where there's three, tomorrow there'll be four, you know, and God knows where you're gonna end up by the end of next week). And lo and behold, suddenly this brand new sound doesn't seem like such a cool idea after all. Suddenly you perceive that you can actually get tired of it in five minutes' time. Suddenly it becomes frustrating because at a certain point you could already wish to start hating this record but you can't - new style, new ideas, well-meaning lads, you just don't do this in such a simple way. So you're just hung up!

Generally speaking, the title track forms a very clear-cut opposition to the remaining Big Lump of Eight (one more number, 'Jim', is a brief acoustic interlude). Only natural, then, that all I need out of that lump is just one song; I'll take 'The Jungle', faster, noisier, and scarier than the rest, and somewhat matching its title in general impression. But still, too many keyboards. Just too many. If only Roddy had bothered coming up with a better tone, at least, but the acme of the nightmare is in realising that it's all friggin' MIDI muzak by today's standards. Every time I listen to 'Mark Bowen' I keep remembering some stupid soundtrack to a computer strategy, like Dune II or something. It's not for nothing that nerds like me keep complaining about how 'synthesizers suck', people - for every boy and girl there comes a time and place when they really, really do suck, especially when placed in uncomfortable contact with "real" instruments. As the ultimate stab-in-the-back, might I warily suggest that during some of its worst moments, the album is actually reminiscent of late Eighties Rush? (Try and find these for yourself).

It's a pity that behind all this well-meaning, but ultimately annoying sonic muck it gets so hard to see the band's strong sides - such as the lyrics, for instance, which commonly border on trite yet every now and then veer off into amazing directions. Like this: "Over the hills they came from the valley/Making innuendos about my lack of talent". Where did that come from? Oh right, the back of Chuck Mosely's troubled mind. It's about his bad singing, after all. Lots of stuff here that owes its existence to early Eighties' "political punk", but with a face of its own.

It doesn't exactly help matters much that few of the songs display any signs of careful structure. The distinctions between verses and choruses are blurred (much of the time, they just don't exist at all), and way too often you get the feeling that they're just making this up as they go along, with Mosely improvising the lyrics, Martin improvising the simplistic guitar riffs and the keyboard guy actively blopping them with synthesised mayonnaise. Under different circumstances, this could work, but here the bag of tricks is so limited that it doesn't. Many of the fans blame everything on Mosely and his bland singing style, but I vote for collective guilt, five years of probation, 5,000 illegal downloads of the title track and presentation of Roddy Bottum's first synthesizer - sawn in two, tarred and feathered - at MoMA instead. Now that would be some real cool conceptual art. With deep, never-to-be-dated meaning and subtext-a-plenty.



Year Of Release: 1987

This album friggin' annoys me. It's supposed to be good. It's supposed to, uhm, be somewhat more complex and somewhat more riff-based and with lyrics that occasionally go somewhere and stuff. It's supposed to be self-confident, and besides, as you already know what to expect, not so much "initially off-putting" as that first record was. But it leaves me cold, and I don't remember any of the songs. Maybe I'm getting burnt out or something.

No, okay, maybe I just don't like "intellectualized hard-rock" that much (one of the reasons I've never gotten much into Rush either). Basically, you can't make heavy music and then take all the necessary precautions so that it don't kick your ass. Heavy music is supposed to get you all riled up; otherwise, what's the point in making it heavy? You could as well make intellectual music with a jangly medieval-tuned 12-string acoustic. I realize there are exceptions to every rule, but this record just kind of strikes me as the quintessential "heavy-without-being-heavy" album. So as a result, even when a good crunchy riff does come on, you know they don't really mean it. These are clever witty sarcastic post-modern guys. They're not Judas Priest or something like that.

Besides, once again the sound is monotonous beyond measure. Yeah, lotsa goodies, but why do I get so bored even if the album is shorter than forty minutes? And they actually throw in a "remake" of 'We Care A Lot' with a new set of lyrics, and it's once again the best song on the record. Goddammit.

Fine, now you just wait a sec while I put my headphones on and settle into a position where I can actually write about songs at the very moment that their climactic moments seep into my ears. Yep, I realize it's a bit like covering your ears while singing into your mike, but this isn't a show of superhuman ability, it's me desperat'ly trying to say something meaningful about the second Faith No More album.

What's the point of 'Faster Disco'? I understand what's its potential, I don't understand what's its purpose. It takes a potentially good metallic riff which produces absolutely no emotions within me whatsoever, dilutes it with the usual atmospheric synths and then gives us that guy, Chuck Mosely, singing some lame mystical crap which isn't particularly stimulating either in the laughing or in the thinking department. How could I call it a 'good song'? I don't even know what is it I'm supposed to feel about it! Maybe if they played it faster, or more "brutally", or gave it a great solo, I dunno...

Okay, 'Anne's Song' is much better. I can immediately cling on to the hilarious call-and-answer vocalization between Mosely and the other band members, and the chorus is almost lush in an eccentric/psychedelic matter (I can easily imagine Arthur Brown singing something like that). The more you listen to the song, the more you're able to get used to the dense thicket of vocal overdubs and appreciate the tune for its goofy poppiness... the problem is that you'll have a hard time trying to remember it in the morning, but maybe I ought to give it another fifteen hundred listens and my mind will open up another spring! Oh, they seem to be throwing in a quote from Styx's 'Lady' there, just for laughs. Should I laugh?

As it goes, I think the title track really cooks. 'Introduce yourself, right on! Introduce yourself, right on!' Too bad it's so true to its name - it serves as a short (two minutes) intro to the bombastic, meticulously constructed 'Chinese Arithmetic', which doesn't rule as much as it could. If only the entirety of the song could live up to the gritty chaos of the Sabbath-esque chorus! As it is, the only thing to register on my parking meter are the cool basslines. And then it's followed by 'Death March' - I don't know what I'm supposed to write about that song. It certainly sounds a bit like a death march, but if I really want professionally performed "death music", I'll take The Cure or Dead Can Dance over this stuff.

'R'n'R' has got a really cool groove going on; the hip-hop influences are used wisely in that the song never really becomes a true "rap" number, but instead merely incorporates bits of rapping into a vocal part that also includes poppy overtones and an almost Zappa-esque goofy 'and it burns, and it burns' chorus. I guess I really like that song and all that confusion which it recreates. I guess I really don't like going on like that, describing song after song, though, because I'm repeating myself to hell. Aaarrgh, damn formula.

To recapitulate: I don't feel the spirit of this record, that's the main problem. It may have something to do with the poor choice of Mosely as lead vocalist - it's not that his singing is ugly or anything (it is, but frankly I don't hold it against him), it's just that it could give you a clue as to Faith No More's basic goals, and instead it doesn't. Instead, it just further confuses matters. Granted, I'll take this 'lack of musical ideology' against the musical ideology of a band like Rush any time of day, but that doesn't mean I necessarily have to like it.


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