Faith No More with cats by Jimmy Hubbard
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The 20 greatest Faith No More songs – ranked

From We Care A Lot to Sol Invictus, let’s rank the Faith No More’s milestone moments…

Of all the heavyweights of modern hard rock, Faith No More are surely the trickiest to pin down. With a sound too often simplified as alt.metal’, these visionaries blazed their trail with a sense of sheer fearlessness, building on proggy funk-rock foundations with sounds as diverse as jazz, lounge, post-punk, thrash and synth-pop, crafting a catalogue that feels gleefully avant-garde. By turns frivolous, solemn and downright demented, their work has felt like a perpetually shifting picture. Never, however, has it been less than electrifying.

What started as a collective (featuring bassist Billy Gould and drummer Mike Puffy” Bordin) under the banner Sharp Young Men all the way back in 1979, metamorphosed into Faith No Man in 1981, then Faith No More following the departure of original vocalist/guitarist Mike The Man” Morris and the arrival of keyboardist Roddy Bottum. Wildcard guitarist Jim Martin would join in 1983, as they cycled through a slew of singers – from the infamous Courtney Love to the late Chuck Mosley – who helped crystallise their conceptual sound. It wasn’t until Chuck stepped aside for visionary Mr. Bungle singer Mike Patton in 1988, though, that they became the world-beaters we know today.

With extensive touring postponed, there is fizzling expectation amongst the fanbase that maybe, just maybe, new music could be added to their seven albums thus far. For now, though, we’re looking back across those unruly, still utterly unmatched existing albums to plot the top 20 musical moments that made Faith No More the legends we worship today…

20. Cone Of Shame (Sol Invictus, 2015)

I’d like to peel the skin off / This winter day,’ Mike Patton sings on this latter-day standout, combining dense, mesmeric lyricism and a sense of gothy, shoegaze foreboding. I’d like to bone the head off / This summer fling / What love can do when love’s lost…’ Coming on like Nick Cave at his most heavyweight for its first half, Cone Of Shame pulls loose in the second, in an almost feral state of shame and desperation. After nearly two decades away, fans had been asking whether these were the same trailblazing risk-takers who’d stamped their mark on the 90s. Cone Of Shame answered resoundingly in the affirmative. Nothing to be ashamed of here.

19. Falling To Pieces (The Real Thing, 1989)

The third single on FNM’s first album with Mike Patton (1989’s aptly titled The Real Thing), Falling To Pieces made its mark on the rock charts the following year, but never really nailed down its place in subsequent live sets. It’s a wonder, given quite how infectiously feel-good the combination of bass-driven composition and Mike’s dextrous vocals (switching between percussive funkiness and a more anthemic sweep) still sounds today. The Ralph Ziman-directed music video shapeshifts with the sort of absurdist expressionism that would become synonymous with grunge in the years that followed, but FNM were drawing from a far more vibrant palette. 

18. Evidence (King For A Day… Fool For A Lifetime, 1995)

The departure of longtime guitarist Jim Martin – who had, with unmatched eccentricity, gone off to become a champion pumpkin cultivator – left a major question mark hanging over Faith No More in the mid-’90s. Genre-shifting fifth LP King For A Day… felt like a defiant statement, proving that big Jim’s exit hadn’t curbed their creativity, but instead left them unbound to craft one of the most eclectic and accomplished albums in their whole catalogue. The record’s third and final single is a perfect showcase of that freedom, wearing jazzy influence and atmospheric R&B leanings on its well-tailored sleeve, as a crooning Mike Patton indulged in a little Burt Bacharach hero-worship. Ice cool.

17. Crack Hitler (Angel Dust, 1992)

Sink the eight ball / Buy the lady a drink / And nobody knows my name,’ announces the opening verse of this Angel Dust classic. Bodies float up / From the bottom of the river / Like bubbles in fine champagne…’ Reportedly named after a black drug kingpin who, with strange sincerity, compared his long reach and iron grip to that of Adolf Hitler, the irony and high-contrast imagery is strong here. Distending the high-energy playfulness of disco through the warped Faith No More lens, the music more than matches up, with urgent, high-sheen synths standing out against the scratchy guitars and restless bass, as Mike’s distorted vocals sink deep into a chaotic mix.

16. Everything's Ruined (Angel Dust, 1992)

Starting with a piano line that could have been lifted straight from the opening titles of some frothy eighties TV melodrama, Everything’s Ruined promptly spirals into a cutting chronicle of depression. Swelling through its euphoric choruses before sinking into passages of deep melancholia, the song appears to be a dissection of a failed relationship between a couple who believed a baby could save their marriage (‘We were like ink and paper / Numbers on a calculator / Knew arithmetic so well / Working overtime completed what was assigned / We had to multiply ourselves / A bouncing little baby / A shiny copper penny…’) and the crushing realisation that they had failed. The infamously shonky Ken Kerslake-directed music video, featuring the band goofing around in front of a blue screen, was apparently the result of them having spunked their whole album promo budget on the previous cuts for Small Victory and Midlife Crisis. It’s still somehow a classic.

15. Edge Of The World (The Real Thing, 1989)

Many critics point to The Real Thing’s closing swerve as the moment that the signature Faith No More recipe was changed, with disparate elements of jazz and lounge music layered into an already mind-boggling alt.funk-metal mix. Riffing on the skin-crawling conceptual narrative of a paedophile hunting young children (‘Hey, little girl / Would you like some candy?’), this was proof that even at their lightest-sounding, there was an irrepressibly dark heart beating beneath the surface of Faith No More. Over 30 years later, EOTW’s blend of so-laid-back-it’s‑horizontal composition, finger-clicking cool and subversive threat feels spine-chillingly unexpected.

14. Motherfucker (Sol Invictus, 2015)

When it dropped on November 28, 2014, Motherfucker felt like an inexplicably bizarro bolt from the blue from a band who’d not released original music in almost 18 years. What initially appears to be a spoken-word assault on the foie gras trade (‘Force fed more than we eat in the wild / Grazed on a mash that can suffocate a child / Bloated, promoted in an ode to pomped style / Moistened in the feed while we choke upon the bile…’) expands into a far broader song about accountability and the dangers of unchecked power and status. There’s something almost farcical about the build of slow-pressed keys and rat-a-tat drums, but the grandstanding six-string pay-off and sheer catharsis of that Hello motherfucker!’ sing-along segues proceedings perfectly from ridiculousness to the sublime.

13. Zombie Eaters (The Real Thing, 1989)

The rich acoustic guitar riff over the opening two minutes of The Real Thing’s beguiling fifth track – part campfire lullaby, part murder-ballad – might just be Faith No More at their most richly melodic. As the track unfurls its deeper imagery, however – imagining living-dead cannibalism as a metaphor for co-dependency in a toxic relationship – it becomes harder-edged and more melodramatic, capturing the feel of a dream gone bad. The lyrics here sound like Faith No More at their most chaotic and contradictory (‘So hug me and kiss me / Then wipe my butt and piss me / I hope you never leave / Cause who would hear me scream…’) but they’re also amongst their most achingly profound.

12. Land Of Sunshine (Angel Dust, 1992)

Does emotional music have quite an effect on you?’ asks Angel Dust’s outstanding opener, cheekily referencing questions used on Oxford Capacity Analysis personalty tests from the Church Of Scientology. Let’s find out. A compelling bassline provides the foundation for gushes of colourful synth and maniac six-strings, but Mike’s unhinged vocals remain the focal point. Written during a sleep-deprivation experiment, he references everything from the aforementioned psych tests to the wisdom of fortune cookies, sounding, by turns, like an over-hyped infomercial host and, by others, like some demented Freudian psychiatrist. A schizoid fever dream.

11. Be Aggressive (Angel Dust, 1992)

Now an outspoken advocate for gay rights and one half of the incredible MAN ON MAN project with his partner Joey Holman, it’s hard to imagine a time when FNM keyboardist Roddy Bottum was yet to come out. That was the case in 1992, however, as Be Aggressive powered its way up the charts with Mike Patton relishing barely-veiled lyrical hints like, I swallow!’ and, You’re the master / And I take it on my knees…’ Superbly constructed from its funky bassline and rattling percussion to Roddy’s grandstanding, er, organ-work, and an infamous cheerleader-chant (‘B‑E A‑G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V‑E’), this was a masterpiece of foreshadowing imperiously elevated by the message within. 

10. King For A Day (King For A Day… Fool For A Lifetime, 1995)

A song about the inevitable ups and downs of life’s rollercoaster ride – and the grim inevitability of death – the sort-of title-track to 1995’s King For A Day… Fool For A Lifetime is a compelling snapshot of post-breakthrough FNM reckoning on the meaning(lessness) of it all. Unfurling across six-and-a-half epic minutes, Billy Gould’s bass and an assortment of jangling acoustic guitars propel Mike Patton’s allegorical tale of having finally gained the status to be invited to the best party in town, only to realise that your time to sit back with a little bit of the bubbly is running out. Sniff the glass and let it roll around on your tongue / Let me introduce you to someone before the party is done…’ he reckons, in a sort of starstruck stupor before realising his mistake with that unforgettable parting plea: Don’t let me die with that silly look in my eyes…’ Weirdly chilling.

9. Caffeine (Angel Dust, 1992)

Conceived during that same sleep-deprivation study as Land Of Sunshine, Caffeine is slightly more transparent in its titular inspiration. The broader lyrics are every bit as impenetrable, mind. The world expects the pose, perfectly natural (loosen up) / Smearing wet concrete and swearing you’ll never be (caught),’ Mike snarls at one point, before rising into a stirring croon: At your weakest, etched in stone / And we’re frozen here, peeking / Almost, sweet talk, caffeine.’ Then the whole thing careers off the rails with a passage of corrosive threat: I’m warning you / I’m warning you / I’m fucking you / I’m warning you!’ Bemusing stuff, for sure, but a powerful instrumental ebb and flow keeps us going like a hot cup of joe.

8. Sol Invictus (Sol Invictus, 2015)

Peace ain’t coming our way / But the sun keeps burning my face / Where’s my faith? / My blasphemy…’ Translating from the Latin as Unconquered Sun’, Faith No More’s seventh album saw them eschew formula with a more naturalistic approach, trading synths for piano and embracing the organic darkness of goth icons Siouxsie And The Banshees – whose 1978 classic Switch they’d slipped into the setlist for their ongoing reunion tour. At a mere 157 seconds, the opening title-track should be (and was perhaps intended as) an appetiser before proceedings properly get started. Mike’s alternation between doomy baritone and near-falsetto whine take centre stage, with soft-pressed keys, whispering percussion, understated guitars and deeply atmospheric synths rounding out their return with the kind of accomplished subtlety that could only ever have come from this band.

7. Ashes To Ashes (Album Of The Year, 1997)

When Faith No More’s sixth (at the time, presumably final) LP dropped on June 3, 1997, it felt like an almighty shambles. Sardonically titled Album Of The Year, it was a collection of songs by artists whose minds were elsewhere. Mike Patton was preoccupied with Fantômas and Mr. Bungle amongst other projects. Billy Gould was involved with bands like Brujeria and Milk Cult, while also expanding his production portfolio. Mike Bordin was getting to rock out with Black Sabbath, while Roddy Botttum was caught up in Imperial Teen. The first of two massive stand-outs, though, Ashes To Ashes feels like a compelling sequel to 1992’s dark romantic benchmark Midlife Crisis, built from snarling riffs, near-ethereal croons and a chorus for the ages. Smiling with the mouth of the ocean,’ indeed…

6. Last Cup Of Sorrow (Album Of The Year, 1997)

The second Album Of The Year highlight delves right back into the moody darkness of the band’s earliest days. This is getting old / And so are you,’ it announces, almost too obviously drawing an arrow towards their impending dissolution. Everything you know / And never knew / Will run through your fingers / Just like sand.’ Erupting in one of the band’s all-time great choruses, however, the track transforms into a knowing invitation for fans to indulge in one last miserabilist gulp before they go, while the repeated closing mantra You might surprise yourself’ feels, retrospectively, like a tease for their eventual return. The strikingly odd, Joseph Kahn-directed music video is an open homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and stars modern Hollywood great Jennifer Jason Leigh.

5. The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies (King For A Day… Fool For A Lifetime, 1995)

Veering between outright abrasiveness and soothing melody, the fourth track from King For A Day… has been open to some interesting interpretations over the years. Some say it’s about the inevitable counterbalance of detractors and trolls that accompanies any otherwise-beloved artist finding substantial success. Some say it’s about prison rape. Either way, with the band thrashing through some of their most invigoratingly in-yer-face sounds, and Mike barking out lyrics like, Happy birthday… Fucker / Blow that candle out!’ and, Your day has finally come / So wear the hat and do the dance!’ it’s an absolutely wild ride for us listeners. Haters gonna hate…

4. Epic (The Real Thing, 1989)

Faith No More’s breakthrough hit does exactly what it says on the tin. Narrowing focus from that opening widescreen riff to a thumping bass and Mike’s hooky-as-hell rap (the singer was apparently trying to invoke the same feel as Blondie’s Rapture), the track became an early 90s anthem, offering the same funkiness and flair as early Red Hot Chili Peppers with far more mystery and heft. Hell, the music video – featuring a slimy rainstorm and exploding pianos amongst other trippy imagery – was enough to make the mind boggle in and of itself. And, although it has been suggested by members of the band that lyrics like, It’s dark, it’s moist, it’s a bitter pain / It’s sad, it happened, and it’s a shame’ are about jerking off”, any number of innuendos could be read into its maniacal rant. Most likely, we reckon, they were toying with a contrarian lack of meaning: What is it? It’s it!’

3. We Care A Lot (Introduce Yourself, 1987)

We care a lot about disasters, fires, floods and killer bees / We care a lot about the NASA shuttle falling in the sea / We care a lot about starvation and the food that Live Aid bought / We care a lot about disease, baby Rock, Hudson, rock, yeah…’ Faith No More’s first unequivocal classic dates back before Mike Patton’s time with the band to that of underrated early singer Chuck Mosley. The prototype FNM sound was already in place – thudding bassline up front, haunting synths, serrated shards of guitar – but Chuck’s vocal style was punkier, and his lyrics more pointedly satirical. In the heyday of the celebrity fundraiser, they dared skewer the earnestness and piety of a generation of bands who surely didn’t care half as much as they’d like to be seen to: Oh, it’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it…’

2. The Real Thing (The Real Thing, 1989)

I know the feeling / It is the real thing / The essence of the soul…’ The spine-tingling title-track to their 1989 breakthrough LP feels like peak Faith No More to many fans. Sprawling out over eight-and-a-bit minutes of strange, almost proggy twists and turns – virtuoso vocal gymnastics, staccato-sounding bass, walls of gleaming synth, breakneck tempo-shifts – it still feels like a psychedelic showcase of the many facets that make this collective great. Crucially, it is constructed with maturity and emotional dexterity, hanging disparate feelings of elation and panic, enlightenment and confusion, hope and despair together into a peerlessly textured yet coherent whole. 

1. Midlife Crisis (Angel Dust, 1992)

Legend has it that the crown jewel of 1992’s Angel Dust was inspired by Madonna’s floundering early-’90s pop career, and her seemingly directionless overexposure across TV and radio at the time. Sense of security / Like pockets jingling / Midlife crisis / Suck ingenuity…’ Supposedly the band even held onto that working title – Madonna’ – long after it had been released. Where that pop icon was on unsure footing, however, Faith No More were confidently hitting their stride. From Jim and Roddy’s guitar/keyboard interplay to Mike Bordin and Billy Gould’s drum and bass to Mike Patton’s increasingly dextrous vocals, they were reaching an irresistibly fluid culmination. Midlife Crisis was the peak for a group of players capable of music that was stunningly twisted, impenetrably dark and dauntingly obtuse – but never failed to sweep the listener along for the (emotional rollercoaster) ride. Still staggering, three decades on.

Posted on November 11th 2020, 3:00p.m.
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