San Francisco’s Faith No More began on the indie scene’s Marshall plan, playing a muscular mongrel rock mix containing funk, metal, hip-hop, hardcore and keyboards that punks could easily appreciate. Leading off with the dynamic and inspirational chant/roar of “We Care a Lot,” the first album (a Matt Wallace production that was remastered and reissued after the band’s second LP) attempts too many things (none, except perhaps “Greed,” as memorable as the title track) and lacks the songwriting tools to be really effective, but it does offer a solid dose of street-level guitar power to those revolted by arena bands.
Apparently unconcerned by the danger of seeming like a one-song band, the quintet redid “We Care a Lot” with new topical lyrics for Introduce Yourself, a blistering, conceptually refined album built around Jim Martin’s well- integrated metal guitar, Mike Bordin’s superb drumming and Chuck Mosley’s coarse vocals and real-life lyrics. Having located a solid stylistic core, Faith No More’s careful digressions into rappish rhythm riot (and other areas) became part of a clear-cut sound, supported by much improved songwriting (like “Introduce Yourself,” which namechecks a good chunk of the record industry, and “R’n’R,” which is blurted in a hard-rock analogue to Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”).
Mosley was sacked in 1988 and replaced by Mike Patton, a quivery young vocalist who’d obviously seen Anthony Kiedis front the Red Hot Chili Peppers more than once. Dispensing with any remaining eccentricities, Faith No More rolled all of its assets (giving new prominence to Roddy Bottum’s keyboards) into a tight commercial ball on The Real Thing, thereby joining Living Colour as one of the very few electrifying hard-rock bands to remain clearly outside both the metal and pop spheres. A catchy song (“Epic”) and a striking video (that goldfish suffocating memorably on a polished floor) made a platinum seller of Faith No More’s idiosyncratic mix of heavy metal guitars, half-rapped vocals, waves of bright keyboards and powerhouse rhythm section. The 1990 success of The Real Thing, however, proved difficult to re-create, and the multifarious personalities that accounted for the San Francisco quintet’s distinctive sound began to splinter apart.
The friction resulted in an uncomfortable follow-up, Angel Dust. On the positive side, Patton asserts himself more, developing a style further removed from Kiedis-like yattering and closer to the barking he does in his sideband, Mr. Bungle. The problem is that guitarist Jim Martin, whose metallic riffing gave the music such bite in the past, seems less sharp, and that throws the whole equation off. The most Faith No More-like songs on the record are its most disappointing; the best tracks are those (like “A Small Victory,” which seems to run Madame Butterfly through Metallica and Nile Rodgers) that reveal a developing facility for combining unlikely elements into startlingly original concoctions.
Indication that the group’s sense of humor might be getting the better of it, the Easy EP features a shockingly straight-faced cover of the Commodores’ soft- soap “Easy” (and a rude picture of humping rhinos), plus Angel Dust‘s “Midnight Cowboy,” an unreleased original polka (sung in German, or what at least sounds like German, complete with sound effects) entitled “Das Schutzenfest” and the Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch the Landlord,” crooned as if it were rockabilly, over accordion, spare drumming and twangy bits of guitar.
Not surprisingly, changes were imminent. The inchoate rage of Angel Dust comes home to roost on King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime, which starts off with the scathing “Get Out,” ostensibly a kiss-off to the departed Martin. With guitar duties handled by the more flexible Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle (a fill-in who was replaced after the album by former keyboard roadie Dean Menta), the jarring shifts in style and strange combinations of elements begin to make more sense. The jump from the mid-tempo soul ballad “Evidence” through the punkmetal grind of “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies,” into which only Faith No More could successfully cram a hummable chorus, to the odd hardcore samba of “Star A.D.” shows a band that is still omnivorous, but better able to chew its food. Each song its own violent squall, King for Day is relentlessly fascinating.
Faith No More fans who picked up Mr. Bungle on a whim to see what Patton’s pseudonymous sextet was like found themselves in possession of one of the most ambitiously random, fractious records in recent memory. Filled with sampled absurdities, sucker-punch time changes and contortionist (and cartoonish) vocal operatics, the album owes a debt to co-producer John Zorn’s Naked City, the Boredoms and ultra-violent Japanese animation. This constant flurry of contrasting noise is jarring, as Patton vents his spleen and various other organs on the proceedings. Among the inexplicable inventions are “Travolta,” “My Ass Is on Fire” and “The Girls of Porn.” If that description sounds unappealing, that this is one of the finest records of its kind won’t make it any more likable.
Perhaps Patton exorcised too much on King for a Day, or the Japanese Nintendo-core Mr. Bungle emulates grew too formidable, because Disco Volante is a disappointment. With the chaos not nearly as well orchestrated as on the debut, it amounts to so much undifferentiated tissue.