Faith No More has made it very clear that they had nothing to do with the perfectly-timed reissues surrounding their two best-known and best-selling records, The Real Thing and Angel Dust. The bad news is that this is a money-grab effort of the tallest order by their label, Rhino Records, who are clearly looking to capitalize on the band’s highest profile in decades. The good news completely trumps the negative since this is actual Faith No More music. The band couldn’t have given fewer fucks about commercial success (and don’t care currently either), but they were never less than compelling and, at the time of these records, at their creative peak. Besides, even if it isn’t officially sponsored, fewer bands are more worthy of receiving an added payout from music we’ve mostly already heard, because it remains as original as ever.
Thanks to the band’s visionary “Epic” video being one of the defining images of the MTV era, few people realize or remember that singer Mike Patton had only just joined the band not long before. With music pretty much already recorded ahead of Patton’s arrival for 1989’s The Real Thing, Faith No More’s third release was essentially a band finding its way together, and it took some time to take. It’s lost on most that “Epic” wasn’t even the record’s first single, as that honor belonged to “From Out of Nowhere,” and that the success of “Epic” wasn’t met immediately. Still, thanks to the eventual massive airplay of “Epic,” which became the band’s only top-ten single, The Real Thing received critical acclaim and sold fairly well, especially outside of the United States.
Any reissue is going to be judged by its extras, and it’s likely that the eventual vinyl packages will define this particular instance, but the second discs here are still worth digging into. Though not a band with the deepest of vaults, these releases are more of a revisitation effort than a discovery exercise, but there is plenty to explore, from alternate mixes to B-sides to live cuts. Though “Epic” still remains electric with each listen, a remix of third single, “Falling to Pieces” is the highlight, offering more crunch than the album version and added group harmonies that actually improve on the original. It still remains a mystery that “Sweet Emotion,” eventually released on the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack as “The Perfect Crime,” didn’t kill on radio. With its driving chorus, Roddy Bottum’s floating synth and piano lines, guitarist James Martin’s metal riffs and Patton’s unlimited range, it represented a total band effort that is a perfect extension of The Real Thing material. Even “Cowboy Song,” a B-side melding pop, thrash and metal on 1991’s Live at Brixton, offered the band’s radio friendliness while still showcasing Bottum’s adventurous church organ and Martin’s beautiful, swirling guitar wizardry. It would also be sacrilege not to mention the inclusion of their 1989 live take on Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and how it’s somehow heavier than their album version and impossibly true to the original.
Though the singles provided the mainstream with plenty to work with, the extras here preview a bridge forming to Angel Dust. Look no further than “The Grade,” another B-side from Brixton, which comes across as a complete detour but still a gorgeous “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” slide guitar instrumental. Though there are some new unreleased live tracks from the Brixton shows (a funky “Underwater Love” and 1985’s “As the Worm Turns,” which thrives with Patton on vocals), another handful of tunes from a show in Sheffield, England, stand out as exhibits of Patton’s silly stage presence. After asking the audience if they’re ready to hear a satanic song and providing a faux-metal roar, he introduces “Surprise! You’re Dead!” as “Like a Virgin” before the band proceeds to pummel the audience with heavy guitars, shifting tempos and traces of hip-hop. Still, the highlight here is a take on “Chinese Arithmetic,” off of 1987’s Introduce Yourself, which finds Patton teasing Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” and coming across as Anthony Kiedis with infinite range.
By the time of 1992’s Angel Dust, their fourth release, Patton and his musical acrobatics were fully integrated into the band, and his presence clearly carried weight. With the opportunity to become one of the biggest bands in the world (remember the legendary ill-fated tour with Guns ‘n’ Roses and Metallica?), Angel Dust seemed to almost react against the widespread reach of “Epic,” with Patton taking the band to weirder and more experimental heights, delighting core fans and critics but puzzling label executives, even though Angel Dust did reach number 10 on the U.S. charts, a peak for the band. In retrospect, Faith No More became too intelligent and too hard to define for the mainstream to maintain any sort of mass audience, but it’s a record that remains timeless and is unquestionably as influential as any from the period.
As for the reissue, we get a compilation that shows the headspace Faith No More lived in at the time and how there were no limits. Any band that gave even a rat’s ass about commerciality never would have even thought of recording the batshit German polka of “Das Schützenfest,” let alone put it alongside a direct, straightforward cover of the Commodores’ “Easy” (off of the Songs to Make Love To EP, which also includes a take on the Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” with Patton sounding like he’s surfing in an Elvis costume). As for the aforementioned “Easy,” several takes are offered here, including a laid back and lounge-y version featuring horns and an extra dose of Bottum’s hovering synth. Despite the across-the-board pushing of the envelope, the most shocking revelation might be the fact that the slow, bruising, multi-part Angel Dust outtake “The World is Yours” didn’t make the cut for the original album.
Aside from a forgettable electronic mix of the otherwise stellar “A Small Victory,” the Angel Dust extras are most notable for the extensive selection of live tracks. Though recordings from a 1992 Munich show come across as a little rough and muddy in terms of sound quality (“Be Aggressive,” “Kindergarten,” “Mark Bowen”), the heavy samples, industrial guitar and traces of hip-hop (Patton even references House of Pain) during “We Care A Lot” show how Faith No More set the stage for bands like Nine Inch Nails. Tunes from a concert in Dekalb, Illinois, effectively illustrate Angel Dust’s more approachable side, as a heavy and intense offering of “Midlife Crisis” allows their pop sensibility to come through, while “Land of Sunshine” provides a platform for social commentary on greed and corruption (even more relevant today) as Patton displays his scream, sinister laugh and operatic range above slap-funk bass. Despite their ability to package hooks with the best of them, they still manage to perform a version of “RV” that somehow stays true to the whacked-out circus-like exhale of the album version.
Until 2015’s Sol Invictus, it had been 18 years since Faith No More last put out new music. Though there’s nothing more exciting than hearing the band reinvigorated and having the opportunity to see them live, the notoriety affords the band an opportunity to introduce itself to an audience that may not have even been alive when Angel Dust or The Real Thing were released. Though a rear-view mirror may not have been exactly what the band had in mind, it does shine a light on how ahead of the game Faith No More were by fusing together so many different musical elements, and how timeless these albums remain. Whether you’re checking in after many years away or uncovering the band for the first time, it will be more than worth your while.