I make no secret of this fact. I am getting old. And I do not merely mean old in the sense that I am now not young enough to see any novelty in being granted the privilege of voting in subtly rigged elections or buying my own vodka. I mean old in the sense that I see Death standing across the road from me, waving a hand, and promising that he will see me soon. I mean old in the sense that when he does this, I ask him if he can make it quick and at least relatively painless. I do not want to live in a normalistic world run by the kind of morons my grandfather would happily have lined up against a wall and shot, thanks very much.
Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah. On June 8 of this year, the Faith No More album Angel Dust will have been commercially available for a period of twenty years. Twenty… fukking… years. This is not dissimilar from saying that I am old enough to have been exchanging bodily fluids with a female friend I met in circumstances I will not bore you with about a year after the theatrical release of one Basic Instinct.
But the salient point here is that in commemoration of this approaching twentieth anniversary, I want to tell you about how fukking awesome Angel Dust was and why. In order to get the full meaning, you need to go back a little in time to 1988. For reasons that are disputed by both parties and really not that interesting unless you like the convergence between creativity and politics as a subject, Faith No More had just fired their vocalist Chuck Mosley. Prior to Mosley, the band had no less than four vocalists, including one Courtney Love. Of the many peculiar stories that surround Faith No More‘s lineup, the fact that the band at one point fired then rehired Mosley is probably one of the most memorable. Not because Mosley has any unique qualities as a vocalist or a band member. Well, unless you count one. On the Faith No More albums his vocals can be heard on (We Care A Lot and Introduce Yourself), he is fukking terrible. So when he departed after the writing process for The Real Thing in somewhat acrimonious circumstances, then-guitarist Jim Martin suggested the vocalist he had heard on a demo tape that was circulating around California and presumably San Francisco at the time. The demo tape in question was by a band called Mr. Bungle, and the vocalist was one Mike Patton. One only wonders what Martin‘s bandmates must have thought of songs like Evil Satan, but clearly they thought that it would be good to have a competent vocalist, which even the worst Mr. Bungle demos clearly show Patton was.
So, after being brought to the studio and asked to sing material that had been written by someone else, Patton toured the world with Faith No More and became a big celebrity. In the image you see attached to this paragraph, you can see that the union of Patton and Faith No More ended up like a marriage made in heaven. Patton could act like the intellectual-jackass hybrid that has been his public persona ever since, and Faith No More could have a vocalist capable of holding a tune in a fifty-gallon drum. Whilst this union was not without its own difficulties, both Faith No More and Slash Records were able to parlay it into a huge commercial campaign that saw Faith No More attain a number one hit in some territories with a little song called Epic, appear in a few films (including Jim Martin‘s in-the-flesh appearance in that godawful Bill And Ted sequel), and just generally yuck it up a bit.
So now I am sure you are wondering what all of this has to do with Angel Dust. Well, when an artist has a few successes and a media hounding them to become a walking billboard on a constant basis, they have a few options. One, they can comply with the directive that they turn into a walking billboard and hope they make enough money from the process to retire quietly. The indignities that… bands… like Aerosmith, Warrant, Poison, and their ilk put themselves through in an effort to scratch out a few more post-retirement bucks shows the level of success one can generally expect from this approach. One can also attempt to ride both sides of the fence, putting out material to please the commercial audience and the more “hardcore” folk in alternating steps. Or one can do what Faith No More did on Angel Dust and make one of the most incredibly deliberately anti-commercial recordings ever released through what was then a semi-major label. Angel Dust was also the first Faith No More record on which Mike Patton had any real input into the songwriting process. It shows. In light of prior and subsequent recordings, one could even argue that Angel Dust was not so much a Faith No More record as it was Faith No More doing a Mr. Bungle tribute album.
So what, exactly, does Faith No More pretending for a few months that they are Mr. Bungle entail? Well, pretty much right off the bat we get a mish-mash of musical styles that should not really jibe but somehow do anyway. The opening song, Land Of Sunshine, is basically bassist Billy Gould laying out the guitar riff from the old Black Sabbath classic Hole In The Sky whilst the rest of the band layers an Alice In Wonderland type fall down the rabbit hole feel on top of it. Patton, for his part, gives us a lengthy verse about “you” being an angel heading for the land of sunshine whilst fortune is smiling upon them. But he punctuates all of these sentiments with questions from the Scientologist cult’s so-called Oxford Capacity Analysis test, which is basically their primary tool of persuasion in soliciting new recruits. Calling this song a deliberate poke in the eye to people who were expecting From Out Of Nowhere II or Epic II is an understatement.
Three songs were released as singles from the Angel Dust album. These were Midlife Crisis, A Small Victory, and Everything’s Ruined. The first, I recall seeing a promotional video for on one of the ABC’s less glitzed-up music promotion programmes of the time. And I was immediately sold. Not because this was Faith No More, but rather because a) it was so radically different to what I had been led to expect from Faith No More (as I have already said a few different ways in a few thousand different words) and b) it was more reminiscent of the more hardcore shit that I was finding myself leaning towards at the time. Now, as to what the song is really about, well, it has been said that what the actual surface words mean and what the song is about are often two different things with Faith No More. But the general impression from the words that Patton uses during the song and the music built under him adds up to a man suffering a very serious and unpleasant change of perspective concerning both himself and his place in the world. I can just picture all of the twelve year old girls of 1992 who, as nine year olds stuck images of Mike Patton and his then lion-like mane on their bedroom walls, recoiling in horror at this song. And it gets even more unfriendly from there.
I do not have a favourite, per se, of the 13 songs that make up Angel Dust. There are songs that I enjoy listening to more than others. Malpractice, a song that is as much about beating the listener over the head as the peculiar images the song seems to be based around, is one of the stronger songs on the album. The other songs that I always gravitate to, in no particular order, are Midlife Crisis (the video can be found on YouChoob), Everything’s Ruined, Crack Hitler, and Jizzlobber. The last of these has the distinction of most closely matching the way I see the world as a grown man, and being the only song on the album to which Jim Martin contributed any of the musical writing.
Jizzlobber is a song about being sent to prison and being raped. I cannot describe the musical structure of this song to you if I tried. But if you keep the vague summary of the lyrical content I have just offered at the beginning of this paragraph in mind, as well as the fact that it is also the only song on the album where the guitar is dominant throughout, then it should not be too hard to get an idea of where I am going with this. It is a song of absolute loss of the ability to live with oneself, of cruelty, and of wanting to take something in the past that will continually shape your future back. “I am what I’ve done,” Mike Patton sings repeatedly towards the end. “I’m sorry… sorry.” If you want to get a little sliver of how I have viewed the world since I was about fifteen years old, then this is the song to listen to.
Before I go any further, I will just state that there is one song on Angel Dust that I will probably never listen to again. Kindergarten just upsets me to such a degree that listening to it is physically dangerous for me. Do I hate it? No. In fact, I would listen to it repeatedly when I was younger. But the thing is, songs that invoke images of a schoolyard and end with Mike Patton singing “held back again” repeatedly just do not go down well with the psychological aspect of the thirty-something me. That can be a good or bad write-up of the song, depending on how one looks at it.
The proper closing of the album was with a cover of the John Barry composition that we hear in the final scene of Midnight Cowboy. In the scene in question, Dustin Hoffman‘s character, one Enrico Rizzo, has died during the journey to Miami. This musical theme was disturbing to hear as Jon Voight‘s character watches the palm trees go by, and it is just as disturbing for different reasons after the screaming “make my life go away” feel of Jizzlobber. A great end to a great album.
Unfortunately, the commercialist powers that be did not take kindly to the whole anti-commercial act that Faith No More put on during the Angel Dust phase. Whilst there have been no printed stories of overt pressure, one cannot imagine any other reason the band elected to record a cover of the Lionel Richie song Easy. Whilst the song itself is probably fine in the right context, when you have a band that had spent the past year or more trying to destroy this commercial poster-boy image the record industry was collectively trying to shove them into come out with something like that, it feels like a backing down. It is heartbreaking, in a sense.
On Japanese editions of Angel Dust, one song was offered that I went to great lengths to find in FLAC format late last year. One of the more well-liked tracks from the Mosley era is As The Worm Turns. Essentially a musing on the feeling of being disenfranchised, As The Worm Turns was an example of how Faith No More was at that time a band of great musicians with an amazingly shitty vocalist. For reasons best known to themselves, Faith No More chose to rerecord the song with Mike Patton during the Angel Dust sessions, then chose to keep the song as a B-side for the Midlife Crisis single or a bonus track for the Japanese edition of the album. It is an excellent version of the song. Although the subject matter does not really fit so well with the overall theme of the album, the dramatically increased pace and vocal gymnastics on Patton‘s part turn a dry musing into a haunting look into a person who has been told “we do not want you” a few too many times. Hence, on my iPood’s playlist, Easy is nowhere to be found, but you can bet your last nickel that As The Worm Turns is present and accounted for.
On June 8 of this year, stop and think to yourself for a moment. Where were you twenty years ago? If your answer involves something other than being less than fourteen years old or listening to Angel Dust, go home and rethink your life.
Oddly enough, if you had told me when I was fourteen that twenty years from then, I would regard Mike Patton as a genius, I would have not believed you. Then I heard the Crank: High Voltage score, along with Fantômas‘ catalogue.