FAITH NO MORE – Angel Dust (1992/1993, Slash Records 2 LP and 2 CD editions)
This is my favourite Faith No More record. I’m not sure why, but after a couple struggled listens, I suddenly fell for its intricate, bizarre arrangements. The story goes that Faith No More, the ultimate antithesis to a commercial band, were sick of playing The Real Thing‘s songs live for the past 2 years. They were eager to stray as far away from that sound as possible. In addition, Mike Patton had just completed the cult classic debut Mr. Bungle album. I speculate that this helped spark the sometimes unhinged creative moments on this album, particularly the vocals.
Guitarist Jim Martin and the band were butting heads, and most of the songs were written without him. Mike Bordin, Roddy Bottom and Billy Gould would send him virtually complete songs, which he then “grafted” guitar parts onto. In a guitar magazine interview, Martin stated that he thought some of the songs were better before he added the guitar.
Angel Dust commences with double shot of weirdness: “Land of Sunshine” and “Caffeine”. Patton pieced together the lyrics to “Land of Sunshine” from a collection of fortune cookies. Musically it is dramatic, keyboard heavy and foreboding. “Caffeine” is dark and aggressive, but is Patton’s first bonafide knockout vocal on the album. From the ominous, gravelly lows to off the wall screams, Patton delivers. His voice knows no limits on Angel Dust and I consider this the peak album for his vocals.
The first single “MidLife Crisis” was about as close as it gets to a commercial track. You can certainly hear every nu-metal band in the world (Korn! I’m looking at you Jonathan Davis!) ripping off Patton’s gutteral vocal stylings. But he lets it soar in the choruses. The bizarre pseudo-rapped verses, the samples, and the anthemic, layered choruses all pointed to new directions for Faith No More. The ingredients had never really combined like “MidLife Crisis” before.
Then perhaps the most bizarre song, “R.V.” The lullaby-like piano backs a grizzly soliloquy from Patton, via Tom Waits, playing a trailer park trash character. “Somebody taps me on the shoulder every five minutes. Nobody speaks English anymore! Would anybody telll me if I was gettin’…stupider?” Once the novelty value wears off, it’s still a cool tune due to the powerful choruses. Patton nails another awesome lead vocal on the chorus.
“Smaller and Smaller” returns somewhat to more conventional song arrangements. A repetitive piano hook backs a hypnotic Patton vocal. The choruses are a bit on the insane side, and then the song deviates into a sample-laden section of challenging rhythms. Yet somehow the song remains memorable and catchy. This is followed by “Everything’s Ruined”, which also became a single. I’m sure it was chosen because it is a solid mix of aggressive rapping with a memorable soul-influence chorus. While it doesn’t sound like it would have been on The Real Thing, it’s about as close as Angel Dust gets.
“Malpractice” is one of the most messed-up tunes on the album, a mixture of disjointed sections, noisy guitars, smooth keyboards, feedback, all simmered to perfection. By the time Patton’s screaming, “Applause, applause, applause, APPLAAAAAUUUUUUSSSSE!” I’m already clapping. I think I read somewhere that this song was a Patton baby, which might explain it. Certainly, the lullaby after the 2 minute mark is designed to lull you in before they hammer you with more guitars, samples and screams. This closed Side One.
Side Two was introduced by “Kindergarten”, Patton barking thoughts about the schoolyard. There’s no guitar solo, but Mike Patton provides something shouted through a megaphone that amounts to a solo. This is followed by Billy Gould throwing down a bass solo, and into the final verse. The weak-willed will shudder before “Be Aggressive”, a graphic series of metaphors about swallowing. This discourse is accompanied by a cheerleader chorus. Jim Martin turns in a sloppy, Pagey guitar solo, the only one on the album.
After assaulting the listener with a song like that, “A Small Victory” is a welcome respite. Its simple but bountiful melodies are perfect to soothe the ear canal. This is also to prepare you for “Crack Hitler”, another bizarre sensory overload. Funky bass meets distorted rapping, until it swerves into this weird, evil march. Patton’s vocals run the gamut from light, to dark and monstrous. Even so, “Jizzlobber” is the most extreme song of them all. It has those creepy Friday the 13th keyboards, heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums, and Patton’s most aggressive lead vocal yet. I don’t know what the hell he’s singing without the lyric sheet, but it doesn’t sound like I wanna know either. It’s just a pummeling assault, and unprepared listeners may find themselves overwhelmed and perhaps turned off from the album by this point.
The standard album ends with “Midnight Cowboy” supposedly because of some obsession that Billy Gould had with its storyline. It’s a perfectly appropriate ending given the rollercoaster ride that preceded it. It’s you, wandering off into the sunset, too wasted to really know if you’re headed in the right direction.
I stumbled upon an LP in 1993 that came with a bonus 12″. This 12″ contained the exclusive “Scream Mix” of “MidLife Crisis”. On the B-side are “Crack Hitler” and “Midnight Cowboy”, which didn’t fit on the first record. The drum intro on “MidLife” is slightly extended, and the mix sounds possibly a little more bass heavy.
The Australian 2 CD version that I also have contains the Commodores’ “Easy” as its bonus track. This is the same version that came out here domestically on the Songs to Make Love To EP. It’s rendered remarkably straight, and its a performance like this that truly demonstrates Mike Patton’s vocal mastery.
The 2 CD edition comes (obviously) with a second CD! This is a live EP entitled Free Concert in the Park, recorded in Munich. It contains live renditions of three songs from disc 1, and one song from the first Faith No More LP, We Care A Lot. Mike Patton dedicates “Easy” to “everyone with hemorrhoids this evening!” And I am sure they appreciated his dedication, as they are an oft-ignored group at concerts, aren’t they? The guitar solo in “Easy” remains one of my Jim Martin favourites. Even heavier and more chaotic versions of “Be Aggressive” and “Kindergarten” follow, replete with surprises. These live versions really hit the spot, as they are really cranked up. The early obscurity “Mark Bowen” closes the disc. This is the only version of the song that I have with Patton. I like his take on it, which takes advantage of his vocal power.
It was astounding to me that three albums in a row, Faith No More had turned in inventive, new, exciting and potent music that was unlike the previous. Angel Dust is definitely a peak of some kind. 80% of nu-metal bands owe their careers to this album. I consider this to be “my favourite” FNM disc, although to be perfectly honest, I consider Introduce Yourself, The Real Thing, and King For A Day…Fool For A Lifetime to all be worth…