Article By: Brett Schacht ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway
The late ’80s were an exciting, at times bewildering, time for rock and metal music fans. New sub-genres were popping up almost daily, an arms race of originality that saw rock splintering off, assimilating, and merging with previously unthinkable bedfellows. And even in this unusually fertile period, FAITH NO MORE was an enigma.
They were one of the original hyphenated metal acts, the likes of which soon became inescapable in a genre that once seemed so easily defined. What exactly was FAITH NO MORE, anyway? They dabbled in such crushingly heavy moments that they sabotaged their chances of ever becoming a lucrative pop band (which they easily could have done). They drank heavily from the trough of Sabbath, meaning they should have been slavishly devoted to the Almighty Guitar Riff, but instead their sound was rooted in the interplay of the drums (Mike Bordin), bass (Billy Gould), and keyboards (Roddy Bottum).
‘The Real Thing‘ was FAITH NO MORE‘s third outing and their first with the precocious and uber-talented Mike Patton on vocals. Despite the fact that the album was mostly finished by the time he came into the picture, Patton immediately made a huge impact, infusing nearly every track with his nasal warble (a style that would be almost completely jettisoned on the ’92 follow-up, ‘Angel Dust‘, replaced with a rogue’s gallery of vocal facades). But even here, with nearly zero input on the musical side of things, Patton splashes wild Pollock-like paint splotches like Vesuvius, a divining rod in search of another aquifer to tap into (mixed metaphors much?).
The irresistible pop-by-way-of-punk attack of opener “From Out Of Nowhere” crashes out of the gates, Roddy Bottum‘s moody keyboard work surging at all the right moments, Patton showing the band what they were missing before his arrival. The sparse framework that propels “Epic” is nearly comical in its simplicity, but Patton‘s odd charm and Gould‘s two-ton bass was all the hordes needed to hear to be sold on this new model. It was funkier, edgier, and less predictable than anything else on the market at the time. Oh, and catchy as all get-out. To this day, this is the song FAITH NO MORE are known for. The fact that the band was so eager to throw the sound overboard revealed their willfully obstinate nature from the beginning, the group thumbing their noses at the mere idea of currying favor from the masses.
“Falling To Pieces” is the third of an unofficial funk trio that kicks off the album, with Gould once again leading the way, his full but clangy bass tone as instantly recognizable as it was addictive. In fact, a cottage industry of bands who became enamored with FAITH NO MORE‘s funky style shot up like dandelions all over the metal landscape nearly overnight, and just as quickly disappeared. What these other (often talented) bands didn’t quite grasp was that FNM had arrived at their sound serendipitously.
There was no master plan, the music the band wrote came through a clash of incongruous styles that worked because the core musicians (and even eventual black sheep / pumpkin farmer, then-guitarist Jim Martin could be counted amongst these ranks at the time) trusted each other JUST enough to know they’d have something worthwhile at the end of the day after all the bickering and arguing. And “Falling To Pieces”, like much of the album, was a sublime pop-music-shot-thru-a surrealistic lens proposition, the kind these other bands simply didn’t have the acumen for.
The first bit of real metal arrives with the brazenly over-the-top “Surprise! You’re Dead!” And yes, those exclamation points are intentional and completely warranted. Churning, mosh-pit ready math-rock riffs contort and invert themselves violently, Patton telling his dark tongue-in-cheek tale of vampirism with mirth and mayhem.
The inexplicably named “Zombie Eaters” begins quietly, even soothingly, Patton crooning over Martin‘s lilting guitar arpeggios. It’s only when Billy Gould‘s simply FILTHY bass arrives at the two-minute mark that we’re snapped out of our dream-like state. Patton‘s lyrical choices make each song its own entity, a new persona in place with each song, and here he assumes the form of a gleefully manipulative infant, his whims and needs all that matter, the notion of childlike innocence put under the microscope and examined unromantically, even sardonically.
Title track “The Real Thing” is the true epic here in the album (a live 1991 performance video above), a beautifully rendered mosaic of powerful moments joined together by the connective tissue of Patton‘s undeniable vocal talent. It’s visceral, heartfelt, and cinematic in its ability to pull you into its world and keep you enthralled for the full eight minutes of its run time.
“Underwater Love” is much smaller in scope, but its effortlessly ingratiating demeanor is nonetheless impressive. One of the moodier pieces here, “The Morning After” is contemplative at first, but builds in strength, culminating in the poetically confrontational lyric “Is this my blood dried upon my face / Or is it the love of someone else? / It tastes so sweet / Just like you used to / So rescue me, my love / Splice us together”.
Patton sits out for the instrumental “Woodpeckers From Mars”, keyboardist Roddy Bottum getting to flex his musical chops with mysterious Arabic-flavored melodies that rise and fall over the shifting sands created by the flawless rhythm section of Bordin and Gould. Dynamically, this is one of the high points of the album, with Jim Martin stepping in to deliver another understated but powerful performance over Gould‘s throbbing bass line. This is what classical music would sound like if it was delivered by a bunch of misfits stranded on a desert island with nothing but their imaginations and copious amounts of hallucinogens to guide them.
Roddy Bottum – Keyboards
Billy Gould – Bass Guitar
Jim Martin – Guitars
Mike Bordin – Drums
Mike Patton – Lead Vocals
Most metal bands have tackled a Sabbath tune at some point in their career. Hell, it’s expected. But the results are usually perfunctory unless the band in the question decides to venture outside of their genre and transform the song into something radically different. FAITH NO MORE play it straight here, however, and somehow manages to equal the power and funkiness of the original. No, you can’t beat Sabbath at their own game, but if you can walk away after performing one of their classics without egg on your face, I’d call that a win.
The final song, “Edge of the World” approaches a campy cabaret and transports us to a seedy nightclub with Patton portraying a lecherous old man who’s still got a taste for young ladies. This song veers boldly toward the genre-hopping that became de rigueur on later FNM albums. It was the oddest duck here, but it also pointed towards their future, and it went over big live at the time, Patton engaging the crowds with the bizarre singalong outro.
FAITH NO MORE was, along with Primus, one of the few bands to emerge from the brief funk sweepstakes in metal with any real lasting relevance. Artistically, they grew with every release, incorporating diverse musical ideas with a ravenous appetite, pushing the boundaries of their music, sometimes to the breaking point. But this is where the journey truly began, the band getting a glimpse of the possibilities available to them now with Patton at center stage. The trip was too short, the group breaking up at the end of the ’90s (only recently reconvening), but every snapshot like ‘The Real Thing‘, holds a lot of vivid, ephemeral memories.
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