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Faith No More week

To celebrate the release of Faith No More’s new album this week, we’re running a special series of celebratory articles. In this series, we look at each of the Patton-era albums, starting with 1989′s The Real Thing!

Faith No More - The Real Thing album art
01. From Out of Nowhere
02. Epic
03. Falling to Pieces
04. Surprise! You’re Dead!
05. Zombie Eaters
06. The Real Thing
07. Underwater Love
08. The Morning After
09. Woodpecker from Mars

I can’t precisely pinpoint the first time I heard The Real Thing. All I know for sure is that it predated the 1992 release of Angel Dust, and that it almost immediately grabbed my attention – not least because of the marriage of metal and rap.

It’s fair to point out that Faith No More were by no means the first to discover how porous the border was between these two genres, however the most conspicuous examples prior to the release of The Real Thing were collaborations that skirted close to being novelty items. This was certainly true of Run DMC‘s gatecrashing of Aerosmith‘s “Walk This Way“, and maybe somewhat less so for Anthrax and Public Enemy‘s crushing “Bring the Noise“. Faith No More brought this relatively untested sonic cocktail to the context of a full band, and nowhere did they do it more arrestingly than in the song that would remain their calling card: “Epic“.

Of course, the word which serves as the title hadn’t been so desperately over-used as it has in recent years, so it felt appropriate for the seven minute track, full of bombast and – to modern ears – some almost laughably quaint rapping. Yet in 1989 this really was the cutting edge, no matter how much a line like “it’s so groovy it’s outta sight!” might induce a faint cringe today. Nevertheless, the song turned out to be one of the first faltering steps of a whole new genre, that would ultimately capture the minds of a whole new generation of metal fans, whilst simultaneously pissing off legions of existing ones.

Aside from the forays into rapping, The Real Thing saw Faith No More blend perky, poppy hooks with almost cartoon violence, on tracks like “Zombie Eaters” and particularly on the hilariously over-the-top “Surprise! You’re Dead“, complete with video of chicken sacrifice.

Indeed, Faith No More jumped with both feet into the relatively new world of the music video, with footage of them larking about in varying degrees of outlandish costumes can be found attached to no fewer than four of the tracks from the album. Indeed, it was almost certainly one of these day-glo adventures that served as my first introduction to the band.

Of course, The Real Thing‘s most important place in history is it’s role as Mike Patton’s debut on the global stage. His raps, bellows and surprisingly nasal singing – a style that was tempered by the time Angel Dust rolled around – immediately put him on the map of charismatic frontmen, along with peers like Angelo Moore of Fishbone and Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Mr Bungle t-shirt he sported in the “Epic” video was the first hint of the madness/genius that was to come.

The album’s title track holds a particularly special place in the hearts of those lucky few – like myself – who found themselves inside Brixton Academy for the very first reunion show back in 2009. It was the first original song of the set, and the noise that erupted from the crowd as Mike Bordin launched into the distinctive introductory drum beat was extraordinary, and as close to pure rapture as I’m ever likely to hear.

The album closes with the curious instrumental “Woodpeckers From Mars“, which also holds a personal landmark for me, as it was the track that helped me learn to copy bassist Billy Gould’s slap techniques, opening up whole new worlds of experimentation in the process.

For those without such a rich seam of nostalgia to mine, The Real Thing should still hold up. For sure, some of the production techniques are showing their age, but probably to a less detrimental extent than for the eighties Chili Pepper albums, to take a conspicuous example. But, in the main, The Real Thing still stands up. It contains a few hints at what was to follow, but only a few. Instead, this album is the product of a young band really finding its sound and is therefore brimming with energy, vitality and a playfulness that would never really leave them, even if it became more subtle.

Perhaps for the uninitiated in the ways of Faith No More, The Real Thing is not the place to start – but it does contain some valuable history lessons, both in the context of the course Faith No More would ultimately chart, but also in the broader sense of the development of metal as a whole. And there are precious few albums where that holds as true as it does here.