Faith No More – Angel Dust (Slash – 1992)

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries cynicism in music was seen as bad.  Anything devised or calculated was frowned upon, in their obsession with ‘proper music’ fans and critics seemingly thought that only records that appears written, recorded, mixed, mastered, packaged, promoted and distributed in the space of 24 hours were authentic.  Cynicism was even worse than that, it was an attempt by deceitful to tag themselves on to some other movement or trend.  Cynical was working with Mark Ronson.  Cynical was anything Robbie Williams did post Take That.  But this was always cynicism about music, not cynical music.  It was marketing.  This mix on ‘Angel Dust’ sneers in its ugliness, tones lack sympathy for one another, beats are wrong, samples are comically loud, Mike Patton’s lyrics and overly dramatised vocal styling more like Zappa on Joe’s Garage than a band carving a career following the success of ‘The Real Thing’.  This cynicism manifested in a rejection of many rock norms, incorporation of the new and a fearless delivery of them.  It was all done like this on purpose, a taunt of a record, pitying our cruel lives then ending with covers of ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and ‘Easy’.  It isn’t a form of cynicism that is common in music and as a result can be one that people are uncomfortable with.

Faith No More themselves looked like they’d been the result of brainstorm session by a label, where the outcome was to intended to be the band with the broadest appeal.  The guitar guy had a Flying V and long hair and a beard, metal people will love that.  The bass player slaps now and again, how many did BloodSugarSexMagik sell?  Keyboards you say? Girls love them.  The drummer has dreadlocks and plays the drums?  The stoners will be on board.  The singer looks like he’s like one of those hip-hop skater kids, everyone will identify with him!  They looked they they’d been put together in order to secure the maximum musical instrument endorsement deals.  You can’t help but empathise with the record label upon receipt of the completed ‘Angel Dust’.  Even the title was provocative.  They’d played up to this ramshackle it shouldn’t work image by delivering a record that sounded what they look like at their worst.  While everything that was on this record was so Lalapolloza/MTV zeitgeist it was perfect, it was all there in a fashion so extreme that perhaps it was not.

‘A Small Victory’ achieved constant rotation as a four minute fade out, verses choruses chanting whispering air raid sirens and falsetto, in the end a network of rhythm, volume and pitch entirely unlike anything else on MTV at the time.  ‘Midlife Crisis’ started with a drum loop from Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’ over which Patton told “My head is like lettuce, go on and dig your thumbs in, I cannot stop giving in, I’m thirty something”, it is uncomfortable, like when a comedy routine turns pained confessional.  ‘Land of Sunshine’ starts the album in that manner, “And life to you is a dashing, bold adventure, So sing and rejoice, sing and rejoice”, FNM put themselves above the listener, perhaps even mocking them, instead of funk-rock-pop its brash and harsh, it’s nearly right, it’s dressed to emphasise its flaws, maybe you’re in on the joke, with a chorus of “Does life seem worthwhile to you?”.  They had not held back in the extremity of their rejection.

Disgust is a keystone of this album, being fixated by it possibly equally so.  While this is no dumb frat party album it is filled with moments akin to Johnny Knoxville laughing at blood.  ‘Caffeine’, ‘Malpractice’ and ‘Smaller and Smaller’ are all filled with vocal inwards and (genuinely) grinding riffs that recall Pantera but are nastier, even unhinged to have done this on purpose, lyrically more so, ‘Smaller and Smaller’ referencing Taxi Driver with “Someday the rains will come, My blistered hands tell me, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow”.  ‘RV’ is a take-off on slick Hollywood Country and Western behind a rambling white trash narrative whose indignation spills all over the middle 8. A sense of actual bodily harm level violence stalks parts of this record, made more disconcerting given we’re use to other genres more sensational approach.

Though disgust is present throughout this album is essentially of moments of light pouring through cloud, melodies rarely do anything other than soar, vocal inflections beg to be mimicked, all the music thinks it’s big and it’s clever.  The greatest trick the devil ever played was pulling it off, this could easily have gone awry but instead it remains fresh in its difference.  No one since seems to have managed to have been both absurd and influential to this extent, to have been so earnest and humorous, to make something so ugly and beautiful.  For all the rejection and subversion Faith No More had maintained the inherent joy that can be had in rock.  While posting videos may not have been a trend here before the video for ‘Everything’s Ruined’ pretty much sums it all up http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5irHyoRNcR
Adam Hiles

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