Faith No More
This article is from 2009.
They were true rock subversives and are back to blow our minds. Doug Johnstone reveals all about the perverted genius of Faith No More
It’s almost impossible these days to imagine just how bad things were, but rock music was a fucking embarrassment in the early 80s. The collapse of the dinosaur rock behemoths of the previous decade into hopelessly bloated, overblown, self-important drivel, married with the birth of MTV, had led to a whole new generation of preening, overblown, self-important drivel, with tighter trousers to boot.
The so-called hair metal scene of Los Angeles in the early 80s was a vacuous world of drink, drugs and womanising excess for its own sake, with virtually no talent anywhere to be found. Guns ‘n’ Roses visceral debut album aside, rock fans were assaulted by abject shite from every angle, Mötley Crüe, Poison and Faster Pussycat dominating the airwaves with their spandex and back-combed buffoonery.
Received historical wisdom has it that grunge came along and blew all that away, but that’s not quite how it happened. Before Seattle began stirring, a handful of bands were making loud guitar music with something to say, with an attitude, and with a vision and willingness to experiment and push what they were doing. At the forefront of that were Faith No More.
Alongside the likes of the recently reformed Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More blazed a trail across the media and set themselves up in direct opposition to what had gone before, all three bands mixing metal, funk, punk, prog, rap and even jazz to hugely influential effect.
I know, I know, it seems strange today to think of the Chili Peppers as a force for subversion, such is their association with the anodyne rock’n’roll mainstream over the last two decades, but their love of hardcore and uncompromising stance early on in the music business were refreshing and new.
And so it was with Faith No More as well. Formed in the early 80s in San Francisco, the band put out a self-financed debut album, We Care a Lot, fronted by original singer Chuck Mosley. Although Mosley was eventually replaced by better-known frontman Mike Patton, the template was there from the start, and the eponymous lead single from the album became an anthem for disenfranchised music fans around the globe, fans who were sick of the bullshit they were being fed by an increasingly homogenised media.
OK, other bands were taking on the hair-metallers in more extreme ways at the same time, the hardcore likes of Big Black, Fugazi and Sonic Youth, but the crucial difference was that the triumvirate of Faith No More, Jane’s Addiction and the Chili Peppers took them on in the charts, and won.
Singles like ‘We Care a Lot’ and then later, ‘Epic’ and ‘From Out of Nowhere’ from 1989’s album The Real Thing were genuine hits, alongside the likes of ‘Been Caught Stealing’ by Jane’s Addiction.
These were bands savvy enough to play the media at their own game and yet still confound expectations. Witness Faith No More’s virtually straight cover of ‘Easy’ by The Commodores, which went on to become their biggest hit, managing to be both brilliant yet utterly unpredictable at the same time.
And Faith No More continued to confuse people. 1992’s Angel Dust album was a difficult, experimental listen at times, but also included several commercially viable hit singles, and even a reworking of the theme to Midnight Cowboy.
When this journalist saw the band live at Glasgow Barrowland around that time, singer Mike Patton pissed on the crowd and shat in his shoe onstage. Not necessarily the actions of a great revolutionary, I grant you, but evidence that the band were never going to play the sanitised rock’n’roll game of their predecessors.
And so it transpired. Faith No More disbanded in 1997 after six albums and a fair amount of acrimony, to work on solo and side projects. Jane’s Addiction broke up and reformed several times, Perry Farrell using the time in between to launch the now colossal alternative American music festival Lollapalooza. Only the Red Hot Chili Peppers bit the bullet and finally delivered the ultra-mainstream rock record they had always promised, blanding themselves beyond all recognition in the process.
But all three bands left a huge legacy, changing the face of rock music over the last 20 years.
It could easily be argued that if it wasn’t for the likes of Faith No More and their contemporaries, there might not have ever been Nirvana, Soundgarden, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Slipknot, and on and on the list goes.
OK, they also accidentally inspired the now insipid sound of nu-metal, and potentially even paved the way for emo and nu-goth, but hey, you can’t get everything right, right?
You could argue that the recent reformation of both Faith No More and Jane’s Addiction goes somewhat against the ethos of both bands, that commercial considerations were much less important than artistic ones.
Then again, anyone who witnessed either Jane’s Addiction’s impressive recent showing at T in the Park or Faith No More’s ecstatically received set at this year’s Download Festival would be extremely hard pushed to argue that either band failed to kick ass as well as in their heyday. Which is all that really matters in rock music, isn’t it? Well, no, it’s not, but in that and all other aspects as well, Faith No More still demand our respect.
Faith No More, Corn Exchange, 08444 999 990, 25 Aug, 7pm, sold out.