About halfway through Small Victories, Adrian Harte’s impressive biography of chameleonic rock band Faith No More, Harte gets to the core of the band’s ethos via an exploration of their surprising popularity in the country of Chile. Through an odd series of events, Faith No More found themselves headlining two nights of a staid, Eurovision-style festival in Viña del Mar. During the band’s first-night performance, about half the audience left due to the band’s intense, aggressive approach. The next day, the Chilean press trashed the band, lambasting them as nothing but noise that had no place at such a distinguished event. This was, of course, fuel for Faith No More’s impish behavior. In one of the funniest exchanges in the book, Harte describes how frontman Mike Patton and Chilean author Alberto Fuguet met in a hotel room the night before the band’s second performance and Patton asked straight up, “How can I fuck this thing up?”

Harte traces Faith No More’s compulsive need to fuck things up to their very beginnings as a band. The core trio of Billy Gould, Mike Bordin and Roddy Bottum spent their first year as Faith No More with a rotating cast of singers and guitarists (including Courtney Love whose brief, confrontational tenure in the band finally gets fleshed out), creating music that was antagonistic and, according to one early review, “disruptively odd”. Harte’s prose manages to describe the music as well as the delicate and challenging writing process that brought five very different egos together to create the quintessential Faith No More sound. Despite the band’s penchant for pissing off audiences (and each other), Harte recounts just how driven the band were for success and how that drive often conflicted with their need to be artistically true to themselves. Where a band like the Replacements acted out to satisfy some deep-seated need to sabotage themselves, Harte asserts Faith No More acted out to stave off boredom.

As rock bios go, Small Victories hits all the major mileposts along the way. As a fan, it’s thrilling to read about the band’s rise to success and all the touring and work that occurred before “Epic” hit big. Harte also sheds light on long-simmering tales including concerns about Patton’s side project Mr. Bungle, Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance’s brief tenure in Faith No More, the band’s friendship with Soundgarden and the acrimonious split with guitarist Jim Martin.

Unfortunately, both Martin and Patton declined to be interviewed for the book, and though Harte does his best to ferret out relevant material from previously published interviews, fresh discussions with these two key players are simply essential for a biography of this band. Harte also moves a little too quickly through the last quarter of the book, giving short shrift to the band’s last three records. The author also devotes scant time to Roddy Bottum’s historic coming out as a gay man in the aggressively macho world of metal and hard rock. Despite these quibbles, Small Victories is a joy to read. Faith No More has an impossibly complex history and a habit of deliberately obfuscating the truth, and Harte has managed to streamline all of it into a cohesive and compelling narrative.

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