The reviews of Faith No More’s first album in about 17 years have been frustratingly predictable. They break down in this manner:
The first 10 paragraphs give a history of the band.
The next graphs focus on a few songs, and try to sound all smart about it.
Then they say it’s a good album, or great album – and then shove off.
It’s all crap.
Here’s what you need to know about FNM.
You can never tell how great their records are, because it’s a long game with them. Their songs don’t ever knock you over instantly. Instead they present themselves, and as you listen – melodies, riffs, and infectious parts burrow into your noggin – and bother you months later. FNM didn’t really become one of my favorite all time bands until after I’d had all their records for a couple of years. And realized I was playing them every day.
Every album works like that. Reviewing a FNM album should take place a year after purchase. The same thing with kids.
It’s pretty weird reviewing a new FNM record. I never thought I’d hear another.
Having said that, I’ve listened to it 30 or 40 times back to back since it came out two weeks ago. I have a hard time describing the band’s overall appeal – other than they seem to be smarter than you, so the places where the songs end up are often more surprising and darker than you’d expect. Listening to a FNM record is like a visit from a mysterious relative who knows more about your family than you did. And every participant in the band is the best at what they do. Barring John Grant, there is no better singer than Mike Patton, currently living. John Grant comes close. But they are very different performers. Both have throats like angels, but Patton seems to have actually pilfered it from an actual shrieking cherub. But every member of FNM is in that special inner ring of uber competence, and disarmingly casual about it.
As for lyrics – I’m not a fan of analysis. I actually hate lyrics, and I hate it when they’re quoted in reviews. I don’t think they matter that much – it’s the sounds of words, not the words – that I look for. So after reading interpretations of the songs Superhero and Black Friday by twee grad student reviewers who think these songs carry vital meaning that matches their thesis assumptions –I tell you, you’re wrong. The words sound great with the music. That’s it. Case in point: try to find a lyric sheet to any Melvins record. Those aren’t even words. Patton’s words matter less than the way he mutilates them.
Sol Invictus works like your basic FNM record: the sequencing is an artful job, hustling you politely through all the gentle, harsh, weird surprises that follow – and then when it’s over, you get back on the ride and start over, just like Space Mountain. When I first heard “Motherf*cker,” I dismissed it as a stunt. But it makes sense somehow among its peers. The album makes the song great.
My favorite song is a bouncy racket called Black Friday. Hard to explain if you had to – but it’s a song only this band could do. The clapping gives it a Monkees, Neil Diamond feel that is something new for a group used to fiendish vibes.
And so I realize, I’ve written a FNM review, and the first 10 paragraphs are about the history of the band. And the rest are about some songs. And then, as predicted, I say – the album is great.