None of us are getting any younger.
It’s possibly important to bear that in mind as you approach this new Faith No More album – it’s been 18 years since the last one for fuck’s sake – and to take on board that this is the work of a bunch of guys in their middle age.
To expect the same youthful hyperactivity (or perhaps schizophrenia) that marked their work 20 odd years ago would be utterly unrealistic, given that this band has never made music that looked backwards.
So perhaps on first listen, it will be a disappointment to realise Faith No More have finally grown up.
It certainly was for me, and had I written this review after my first or second listen, I’d have written it off.
The sound of a tamer, mellower Faith No More is perhaps not what anyone wanted, but on the surface that’s what you’re getting. Thing is.. this is Faith No More. There’s always something a little more going on beneath the surface.
And it can take a while to really sink in.
At First, It Wont Grab You
Opening with the slow, pensive title track, it’s immediately clear that in spite of the extended break, Faith No More are still utterly incapable of sounding like anyone other than themselves…but there’s no re-tread here.
It’s a surprisingly sombre way to open proceedings, but immediately yields up earworm number one on an album full of them in the form of the chorus.
At first, it won’t grab you. But an hour later, as with a couple of other tracks on here, you just will not be able to get that melancholy refrain out of your head.
Which is perhaps why I should mention “Sunny Side Up” next, because it’s a prime example of that exact knack FNM still have for writing songs that are positively lousy with hooks.
Initially this is one of two songs that stood out as an absolute stinker (we’ll get to the other one in a second) – Patton’s ridiculous talk about Leprechauns, frying eggs and Fred Astaire, the piano lead almost radio pop approach to the song writing.
However, it’s the album’s secret weapon as it burrows deeper and deeper into your head with each listen. You’ll find yourself absolutely loving it in spite of yourself in time.
Getting Into Negatives
You already know the singles – “Superhero” is a surprisingly by the numbers track, probably the only thing here that really could have been on an earlier record (specifically “King For A Day”); and the perverse and seemingly divisive “Motherfucker” that announced their return in the most gloriously contrary terms possible a few months back.
Both good songs, neither particularly indicative of the album as a whole, but both songs that suffer from a problem that plagued some of the later records – they simple peter out rather than really hitting a peak.
“Motherfucker” in particular suffers from it’s brevity, never quite gaining the momentum or taking the fully twisted turn you hope it will, whereas the otherwise catchy former outstays its’ welcome by a couple minutes.
And seeing as we’re getting into the negatives here, I’m just gonna straight up call it: “Black Friday” is possibly the worst song Faith No More have written since Patton first joined.
A disposable radio rock tune with acoustic guitars that sounds almost childish given the maturity of the rest of the record, it’s total filler with Mickey P sounding weirdly like a parody of himself. The closing “From The Dead”, while no means awful, is ultimately forgettable also, a little too easy listening.
But fear not – because those two fillers are more than made up for.
The good stuff here is, quite frankly, amongst the best music of their career: “Matador” in its’ recorded form is a stunning, jarring piece of work that sounds unlike anything they’ve done before, a mini-epic (no pun intended) which soars beautifully from tense spoken parts into a glorious refrain.
It builds and builds to a peak, and leaves you in no doubt that the foursome are still at the top of their game. Similarly, the much discussed “Cone of Shame” is another slow burning masterpiece – the band take their time building to the explosive climax you know is coming, and when they hit it hits hard.
Both tracks are highlights not just because they’re excellent songs in their own right – but because they make it very clear that there are very clearly plenty of new ideas and sounds at work here.
A cinematic feel that was hinted at in the past on the likes of “Stripsearch” really comes alive not just on these two but on the album as a whole. “Cone of Shame” in particular is such an evocative piece of music,creating a desolate, dark night of the soul vibe before kicking into overdrive.
The other two jewels in the crown present themselves either side of “Cone”. The first arrives in the form of “Seperation Anxiety” – a tense, rumbling headache of musical paranoia underscored with an eeriness that I don’t recall FNM exploring before, and probably the album’s most explicitly heavy moment.
“Rise of the Fall” is an unexpected delight as well, again really running with that storytelling, cinematic feel but bending it in a more rocking direction that really pushes the post punk influences that Bottum, Gould and Bordin have built on over the course of the band’s career.
There’s a faint nod to “Introduce Yourself” in the “Blood” like opening section, before we take a quick dip into some some almost spy music verses before twisting and turning into a brief bludgeoning section in the middle. It’s a little three minute rollercoaster ride. Superb.
Patton The Back
Yeah, you clearly all want to know so I’ll just say it once: Patton is for the most part absolutely on fire here. But this is not the Mike Patton band.
He adds colour and life to proceedings but Faith No More are, and always will be the sum of their parts, and really if I may add a personal comment, it’s Bottum who steals the show here for me, adding gravitas throughout with a more piano sounding approach then the recognisable -but-dated synthesised string sounds of yore.
Everyone in this band pulls together and it’s foolish not to recognise as much. And for the “ugh, but what about Jim Martin?” crowd I’ll be blunt and unforgiving – John Hudson is a fine guitarist.
He doesn’t clash musically with the bass/drums/keys in the way Martin did, but his tasteful, controlled approach really suits this record.
“Sol Invictus” is not perfect. It’s not a masterpiece. It demands repeated listens before it really sinks in, and you’ll need a few listens to acclimatise yourself to the less brash incarnation the band are now in.
But having spent some time with it, it’s a fucking great record, and the more it grows on you, the more you realise there’s plenty of life in this band. so much potential for them to continue along with from here.
It’s the sound of a band returning with their heads held high and dignity intact, doing exactly what the fuck they want. And that’s really all you could want from them.
4.2/5 – Jamie Grimes ::: 17/05/15