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Keeping the Faith

Faith No More
Keep Feeling Fascination: Even after several lineup changes and some distracting side projects, the Bay Area's Faith No More remains an idiosyncratic model of how to make heavy metal meaningful to a wide audience.

It may not really be the 'Album of the Year,' but Faith No More's latest release is eclectic without being trendy

By Gina Arnold

WHEN PEOPLE out in the real world think of the San Francisco Bay Area rock scene, they of course associate us with psychedelic hippie music: the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Santana and the like. In fact, since the '60s ended, the Bay Area has been much more successful at producing idiosyncratic hard-rock bands, the kind that produce a certain type of highly musical, commercially successful and, most importantly, nonembarrassing metal.

Metallica, Primus and Faith No More--all Bay Area locals--are the progenitors of this unusual brand of rock. Of those three, Faith No More is the oldest, staidest, humblest and, in many ways, most seminal--a band that has quietly gone about its business for nearly 15 years with little fuss or muss and nary a rock & roll scandal.

Faith No More is still, however, a little bit of a puzzle. Having almost cycled through its lineup entirely, the group is not quite the hard-rock/metal outfit its two huge hits--"Epic" and "We Care a Lot"--implied, thanks mostly to the trademark sound of Roddy Bottum's synthesizy keyboards. Neither is it the punk-jazz band that singer Mike Patton envisions.

So what is Faith No More? Judging by its new LP, Album of the Year (Slash), it is one of the few truly eclectic rock bands on the planet--and that means eclectic without being trendy. Faith No More runs the gamut from screaming blue metal to soft, EZ-listening rock & roll with ease, but why it wants to is anybody's guess.

This year, however, it's a joy to listen to any innovative record that doesn't invoke dub, techno or tape loops and then calls itself electronica (a la U2, Bowie, Yo La Tengo and even Rickie Lee Jones). It's a point in its favor that Album of the Year doesn't attempt to jump onto that overloaded bandwagon.

Instead, the album runs through Faith No More's patented bag of tricks, including a couple of choppy, funky numbers with rapped-out lyrics--"Collision" and "Paths of Glory"--as well as a couple of Patton-penned R&B numbers that he sings in the style of one of his favorites, the Commodores. (The band covered "Easy Like Sunday Morning" on a 1993 EP.)

"She Loves Me Not" is the standout track, a seemingly sincere love song delivered in Patton's strong, loud, tuneful bass. Patton is one of the better metal singers around, combining as he does the scary theatrics of Hetfield and Danzig with, of all things, the more tune-oriented song-stylings of Lionel Richie.

Album of the Year also contains the requisite number with a nasal-sounding Eastern guitar line ("Mouth to Mouth"), lots of ooky-spooky keyboard runs in the style of "Epic" and several thrash songs, like "Naked in Front of the Computer" and "Got That Feeling." Nothing too innovative--but nothing too boring either, and all quite competently accomplished.


The record company's official page.

An almost absurdly obsessive fan page.

Extensive Faith No More and Mr. Bungle links.


IN THE PAST, Faith No More has been a highly influential band, preceding Rage Against the Machine and the Chili Peppers with a rhythmically exciting cross-pollination of funk and thrash. Even more than Metallica, Faith No More originated the kind of metal that you could actually admit to listening to.

Since then, however, Faith No More has been through a new singer (the band's first vocalist, Chuck Mosely, is usually referred to as "Chuck No More") and several new guitarists, and its funk-thrash sound has become a tiny bit old hat. (Incidentally, the guitar chores on Album of the Year are handled by John Hudson, the group's third guitarist since founder Jim Martin left in 1995.)

These days, other, younger, bands do what Faith No More does with slightly more energy. Indeed, Patton and Bottum currently front other bands they seem to have more interest in; so Faith No More feels more like a side project whose driving force is clearly bassist Billy Gould. (Patton's in the far punkier Mr. Bungle and likes to sing with jazz singers as well, while Bottum started the highly acclaimed indie-rock new-wave band Imperial Teen.)

For all the distractions, Album of the Year is actually mature, motivated and competent--if not exactly hit-bound. Besides, respect is due to Faith No More for exhibiting modesty, anonymity, longevity and chops--all extremely rare virtues in the annals of hard rock.

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From the June 19-25, 1997 issue of Metro.

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