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.
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’, 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.
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.
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