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From The Vaults #12 – ‘Angel Dust’


With anticipation high for their forthcoming album, the time’s right to take a look back as well. Yes, it’s a mega-classic. But ‘Angel Dust’ was, is, and always will be a profoundly difficult album.

It’s neither straightforward nor even, truth be told, consistent. In fact, the only thing it’s really consistent in at all is just flummoxing you.

More than any of their other albums, ‘Angel Dust’ rarely provides a concrete answer. Just when you’ve got something to hold on to – a solid riff, a world beating song – they seem to take it away from you again. It’s an album of wilfull and repeated disobedience to the listener.

Patton Reforms

The background to ‘Angel Dust’ is of course the album that went before it. You have to remember that Mike Patton had more than introduced himself (as it were) with his unforgettable explosion of pure attitude on 1989’s ‘The Real Thing’.

His role there had been to step into the shoes of the charismatic Chuck Moseley, and in doing so setting himself up as an equally characterful and vibrant frontman to this vivacious and challenging band. No worries there – he knocked it out of the park.

So it was with ‘Angel Dust’ that both the band, and indeed Patton, felt able to take a step back, get more thoughtful, and allow their darker and unconventional sides out. This newfound freedom can be heard right from the first notes.

Rather than blast in with a floor filler like ‘From Out Of Nowhere’ did, ‘Land Of Sunshine’ immediately sets up a sort of performance feel; not so much a song, more a tale being told from the stage, albeit more like a punch and judy show.

Caffeine Bomb

‘Caffeine’, the album’s first properly flowing song, is uncomfortable and nervous sounding, but has those keys that give the grandiose sound that Faith No More had already made their own – though of course they had been expertly schooled in this by Killing Joke in particular.

It was the dark dancefloor filler ‘Midlife Crisis’ however that signalled FNM had moved firmly into the 90s. Again, a damning lyric dripping with typical Patton ennui is what holds it all together.

Jim Martin’s nasal, crunching power chords after the ‘big enough for two’ lyric probably did more in a couple of strokes to establish him in the Guitar Gods pantheon than whole careers of other players. The tone was that big.

After that though, things on this album just get a bit damn difficult. How, after the opening hugeness of ‘Caffeine’ and ‘Midlife Crisis’ are you supposed to deal with the seeming daftness of ‘R.V.’, narrated in a lazy and barely audible stream of babble?

It’s not the best tee up for the brooding sweep of ‘Smaller And Smaller’. And yet it’s around this point in time that the album’s true genius starts to flourish.

‘Everything’s Ruined’ is pure pop, in a way – in the way that Faith No More really knew how to do. Ironically for its title, it’s probably the most uplifting song on the album. It’s also an incredibly well layered and maturely composed piece of deceptively simple songwriting – direct, groovy and hugely satisfying.

You might disagree with me, but I’d call ‘Malpractice’ just more filler. Not quite as bad as ‘R.V.’. but certainly occupying the same bizzarre headspace.

Holy Trinity

So it’s been ups and downs.

What comes next though is one of the finest trinities of songs laid to wax, for so many, many reasons. Each of these songs reveals something deeper about Faith No More generally, about this album’s place in time, and about the reasons why this album is so complex and so challenging.

The dissatisfaction of ‘Kindergarten’ is clear as day. A sort of ‘Do Look Back In Anger’, if you will; the first time you get a real glimpse into Patton’s thinking, and what formed him, it seems. It is almost unbearably moody, laden with memory.

The bass and drum bounce that carries it all along suggests a walk to nowhere in particular, most likely through downtown streets on some stifling hot day. I guess everyone will come to this one with their own set of images. That’s its brilliance. That and that vocal note.

The tension is relieved by ‘Be Aggressive’. I’d say it was tongue in cheek, except it’s very obviously about something else in the cheek. It’s important as a song because of it’s funk metal class, and also because it sort of harks fondly to Chuck Mosely in its delivery and attitude. It’s just fun, infectious and downright groove-tastic.

Finally in this threesome is the album’s undoubted highlight.

‘A Small Victory’ is absolutely confounding. It is simplty exquisite – drawing heavily on an oriental multi-layered guitar harmony of almost impossible beauty for it’s main hook, it shows the breadth of listening and musical experience going on in FNM at this time. Where they got it from I simply cant fathom, it’s so out of the blue in the context of the album.

And not only that. This song too seamlessly weaves pop-funk-metal influenced strongly by It Bites and Living Colour into the mix for a bouncing chorus that cannot leave you unmoved. And the seamless segue back into that Chinese melody? This is a musical moment that actually transcends genius.

Devilish Difficulty

Yet the album continues to frustrate. Its peak reached, the final few tracks simply fall flat. Even the slap bass cant really save ‘Crack Hitler’ from being a bit of an uncomfortable non-event.

The discordance of ‘Jizzlobber’ isnt the most satisfying either; though many will appreciate the heaviness inherent in it, it’s always just a bit of a mess to these ears. Filler, in all honesty.

As for ‘Easy’, tacked on to the end… well, it’s one of the classic covers of Rock. An essential, faithful to the original to the point of devotion, and the MTV hit that established Patton as a singer of distinction in the worldwide mainstream consciuosness.

Which just about wraps it up.

Ending on ‘Easy’ might just have been the band’s knowing irony (though I doubt it), and it’s one worth indulging. This album is absolutely not easy, not straightforward, and on some days, not even that likeable.

Metal genius is dirtied up by material that at times feels like it should never have been let anywhere near the finished album. And even the better tracks on here are internally inconsistent at times as well.

But it is this exact difficulty which makes it worth coming back to. You just have to keep checking it out; you have to keep poking at it, interrogating it, exposing its soft underbelly to come to your final decision about what it even is.

Who knows what the new album will be like. Everything after ‘Angel Dust’ was confounding in its own way too, and that’s to say nothing of Patton’s own prodigiously varied and idiosyncractic output.

Let’s hope it’s another laster anyway.

Earl Grey ::: 07/03/15



35 Comments
  1. Rv and malpractice filler? Madness….a great record anyway.

  2. In comparison to the rest, I’d say so.

  3. Rv is the greatest slice of redneck hillbilly despair this side of Beck’s mellow gold album. Love that track.

  4. Standuppaul Says:

    No, no, no, no. RV & Malpractice are far from fillers. RV is borderline genius.

    And the original album didn’t end with Easy tacked on at the end. That was added to the re-release after the Easy single done so well. The original ending was a great cover Midnight Cowboy (which is still on the re-issued version btw, but doesn’t get a mention here!).

    Ah CT, the fact that you don’t even regard Land Of Sunshine as a song makes me think you still don’t really ‘get’ the album.

    Sad face.

    Paul.

  5. Standuppaul Says:

    Also, Jizzlobber as filler? C’mon!!!!!!

    Paul.

  6. Wiseblood Says:

    The album is top to bottom amazing. All the songs you mentioned as filler are standouts to me. RV is superb. That chorus… simply amazing. And Land Of Sunshine is a whopping opening tune. This is still an album that gets regular spins when the summertime rolls around.

  7. Earl grey Says:

    I know easy was tacked on for the reissue – that was the point of the words – but it’s become synonymous with the album, and that’s the version many people have. As for the likes of RV etc being as good as the REAL music on it – nope, I’ve just never regarded them as such, ever. IMO.

  8. The album is perfect.

  9. Circlepit Says:

    I was in second or third year when this came out and I didn’t know what to make of it at first as there was no song like epic on it but pretty soon it became my to album. Almost like a barometer to which everything else had to live up to. It’s up there in the halls of the hallowed for me.

  10. Circlepit Says:

    Go to not to.

  11. Circlepit Says:

    I was in second or third year when this came out and I didn’t know what to make of it at first. There was no song like epic on it which threw me off but pretty soon it became my go to album. Almost like a barometer to which everything else had to live up to. It’s up there in the halls of the hallowed for me.

  12. Circlepit Says:

    Argghh… Comments ahoy

  13. pentecost7 Says:

    I always look forward to the vault section. Am buzzing to see Angel Dust here. What an off the wall underestimated genius of an album for its time. Even for myself. When first released i only enjoyed a few songs like kindergarten, small victory etc. But as i listened to it more and more i got so much more out of it. Its ridiculous and brilliant. I love it all. I Only drove to the kerry 2 weeks ago with it on. Such a great soundtrack to that trip, just brilliant. 9/10

  14. leatherface Says:

    I return again and again to this album. The original title ‘Angel Dust’ was going to be ‘Alienating the public’ as this was apparently something one of the record execs said to the band upon hearing some songs they were including on AD. For me it’s a soundtrack to the 90s, time capsule music…good times. Hopefully the new album is good although I have not been overly keen on what I have heard thus far.

  15. Eoin McLove Says:

    I have to say, its quirkiness and all-over-the-gaff-ness is all part of its brilliance. I can see why RV would throw people but for me it’s as essential to the album as any other tune. I’d say it is a pretty immaculate album and despite the wonk factor, it is a highly listenable, easily digestible one. Then again, I’ve had twenty odd years to digest it!

  16. Eoin McLove Says:

    That said, I think I prefer The Real Thing!

  17. RV is essential to this completely fantastic album. No filler on it start to finish.

  18. I still listen to this album very regularly after its release all of 23 yrs ago (ouch)It an amazing album and still sounds as fresh and amazing as it did all them years ago. Its a Masterpeice.
    I remember thinking songs like Jizzlobber a bit ‘mad ‘ when I first heard it as a teen but grew on me and start to finish it quality .

  19. leatherface Says:

    23 years ago? Wow..feeling very old now. Where does the time go??.

  20. earl grey Says:

    It’s scary isn’t it.

  21. Wiseblood Says:

    Kindergarten is still my favourite song on the album. Mad that it’s that old alright. It certainly hasn’t aged badly. On a side note you may get working on a Draconian Times feature too Ciaran. Also mental to think that it’s twenty this year. Now THAT will make you feel old!

  22. earl grey Says:

    I tremble to even try to put words to DT.

  23. greaterfool Says:

    RV and Caffeine were always my favourites from this brilliant album. Don’t agree with Crack Hitler, Malpractice or Jizzlobber as being filler.. those songs made the album so challenging and innovative.
    FNMs defining moment and a masterpiece in rock music.
    btw it’s “bleeding enough for two”.

  24. Have been on a faith no more buzz for the last couple of weeks. Listened to this start to finish about 5 times in the last few days and it’s absolute genius first note to last. One of the best albums ever. Still hearing new things in it and I’ve been listening to it since around 1995. Completely disagree with the notion of there being any filler tracks at all on this album. Also not getting what’s so difficult about this album. I find it very accessible. Great one to feature here though fair play. Going to have to put it on again now after reading about it. Also can’t wait to hear the new one it seems to be pissing a few people off already so I have high hopes!

  25. resonant paddy Says:

    One band I could never warm too. Never got the fanfare.

  26. Bowelrodent Says:

    My favourite album of all time.

    There is no filler on this chimera whatsoever – each track is an essential part of it. It’s schizophrenic, brazen, funny, silly, dark, melodic, heavy, and very haunting.

    I wouldn’t complain either if they could have found a place for “The World is Yours” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5igT-BMD8AY) on it. I think track #1 would have been a grand spot as “Land of Sunshine” happens to follow it quite nicely.

  27. Knacker4life Says:

    Wow, forgot how good this album is

    That riff on A Small Victory before the Chinese bit is metal majesty

    When they opened their set in Slane supporting Gn’R with Caffeine was just fantastic … finished with Jizzlobber
    They were fair heavy back then

  28. nazgulbrian Says:

    RV and Jizzlobber, filler? Land of Sunshine ‘not so much a song’? Ah now. It’s one of my favorite opening songs on any album.

  29. greaterfool Says:

    Slane was special, crowd were “warmed -up” by My Little Funhouse (!) then “Caffeine” blasted out of the speakers with Patton rolling around on his back screaming for most of it, great set blew GNR off the stage.
    Saw them twice more after that and met them in the Westbury where they all signed my cassette inlay.
    There was a medical bookstore (might be still there) behind the hotel, saw Patton inside browsing the books, we wandered in and had a chat about MrBungle with him.
    Great days – still sunburnt from Slane 92.

  30. difficult?

  31. Dont get the land of sunshine comment at all. Patton going all JG Thirlwell at the end is fucking epic

  32. earl grey Says:

    My point about Land Of Sunshine was not in any way that it’s a bad song. Of course that’s not the case. It’s that compared to ‘The Real Thing’ for one, it’s just not the most in your face and accessible opener. Much more subtle, like the rolling out of the canvas for the rest of the album, as opposed to a grabby track in its own regard.

  33. wizardinblack Says:

    Great article, classic record, though MC into RV is my favourite part of the album

  34. Bought this for a euro in a 2nd shop the other day.

  35. Is this a ‘ had to have been there’ album?
    Thinking of getting it but was never into them. Liked the real thing for a while

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