Faith No More: Angel Dust
While Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain brandished their hearts over the airwaves, there was a seedier, slightly demented current of bands bubbling away under the radar. Weirdos who strangled pop and rock hooks into mutations that wouldn’t dent the charts, but continue to hang around like a bad smell influencing numerous acts that followed. The world of music has always worked like this.
During the grunge craze Faith No More were one of those hidden gems, and for me Angel Dust was a life-changing album.
As an 11 year old in 1989, the funk metal curio Epic was the first Faith No More song I heard. They looked weird, they sounded weirder and the epic (sorry, couldn’t help myself) guitars during its chorus reminded me of the Metallica records I was obsessed with at the time. The novelty wore off though, and like the rest of the world I caught the Nirvana/Pearl Jam bug.
Then Faith No More reappeared, and Mike Patton had an eyebrow ring. I saw Patton convulsing like a mental patient with a shovel, in a dark film clip for the song Midlife Crisis. It sounded like nothing I’d heard before, with its tribal beat and whispered/chanted/sung vocals. I was about to turn 14 and I suddenly felt that Mike Patton was god.
The restless nature of this record totally blew my mind – the rollicking pop and carnival organs in Land of Sunshine, the uncomfortable dirge of Smaller and Smaller, the country ballad RV, the cheerleaders on Be Aggressive, the fucked up heavy metal and pipe organs on Jizzlobber and Malpractice – it was a steaming cauldron of mayhem and lollipops that my teenage psyche latched onto firmly and suckled.
It’s easy to label the music of Faith No More as a prank, and while they veered dangerously close to this on other albums, there’s something tight, cohesive and commanding about Angel Dust. It’s the sound of five guys fighting over what the band should sound like, and creating a hotch potch of Black Sabbath, Beastie Boys, Frank Zappa, crap TV, trailer parks, deep fried food and pimps. It samples diverse sources ranging from Shostakovich, to The Wizard of OZ to Simon and Garfunkel, which indicates the kaleidoscope of themes present on the album.
And among the confusion, Mike Patton is the shining star. His metamorphosis from skater-boy oddity on previous album The Real Thing into a multi-faceted madman on Angel Dust was quite astonishing, it’s the beginning of his more recent desire to push the concept of ‘voice’ to its limits (and not always successfully). Like a chameleon, Patton hosts a dizzying array of characters on Angel Dust; the crooner, the nasal whiner, the growler, the chat show host and, my favourite of all the dying-cat screecher. Each vocal style adds to the left turn dynamics of the band behind him, and leads the listener into nooks and crannies that shouldn’t work together but somehow do.
I still pull out this album every now and again, and I’m always surprised at how fresh it sounds, even after every subsequent rock/rap crossover band and emo-wannabe has removed the soul from the car crash that Faith No More created. Angel Dust is the sound of music that contorts boundaries, rather than defying them. It’s playful and totally terrifying, and it made me realise there was so much more to the world of music than Rock, that records had the power to propel you on some sort of journey. It might sound stupid, but after Angel Dust it was a minor step for me to appreciate things like Sonic Youth and Polvo. Now, here I am today listening to Merzbow and Animal Collective. Thanks Faith No More, I owe you one.