26 Years Ago: Faith No More Releases ‘The Real Thing’
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When the colorful, if somewhat fishy, music video for Faith No More’s “Epic” became a surprise MTV hit in early 1990, it had been sitting on store shelves as part of The Real Thing for some six months. Released on June 20, 1989, the album, in fact, originally seemed to be another setback in what had become nearly a decade of trying to break through.
Suddenly, Faith No More was an “overnight sensation.” But then, these San Francisco-based rockers never did things the easy way. They had been gleefully baffling listeners for years with challenging, unpredictable sounds that combined alternative rock, funk rock, hard rock, art rock, you name it.
But 1985’s We Care a Lot and 1987’s only slightly more streamlined Introduce Yourself had featured the highly unconventional vocals of Chuck Mosley, who’d originally replaced a pre-fame Courtney Love. The Real Thing kept dodging commercial conventions and breaking musical rules, but with one major difference in the recruitment of the new, and largely untested, lead singer Mike Patton. While he had his share of eccentricities and vocal eclecticism, Patton also brought a far more musical and regimented approach to a set of songs already written before his arrival.
The Real Thing would find Faith No More owning up to their Bay Area roots — and guitarist Jim Martin’s teenage friendship with deceased Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, in particular — by embracing thrash’s jagged riffing, if not its self-indulgent solos. Backed by the pulverizing percussion laid down by drummer Mike ‘“Puffy” Bordin, versatile bass player Billy Gould’s elastic grooves and Roddy Bottum’s clean, uncomplicated synthesizer lines, the new music boasted a startling melodic contrast.
Those warring instrumental ingredients struck a shockingly successful musical truce on infectious numbers like the driving rocker “From out of Nowhere,” the hypnotic “Falling to Pieces,” the pure pop of “Underwater Love” and a should-a-been-monster-smash in “The Morning After.” But they also allowed Faith No More’s most contradictory influential extremes to coexist in stunning harmony, as with the death metal send-up “Surprise! You’re Dead!” — which should have converted even the most humorless metal-heads. Then there was the dynamically schizophrenic and lyrically disturbing “Zombie Eaters,” the even more awe-inspiring, religious experience of a title track and the mind-blowing, Bach-meets-Satan-for-tea-at-Salvador-Dali’s-house instrumental known as “Woodpecker from Mars.”
And that’s, of course, to say nothing of “Epic” — the oh-so-different, yet perfectly well-rounded little oddity that rode up the charts with the help of a timely connection to the short-lived funk-metal craze. Faith No More was, however, bigger than any genre box. The Real Thing was something of a harbinger, along with Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking and other risk-taking hard rock albums of the time. The alternative revolution lay just around the corner.