While not exactly half-assed, Rhino's reissues of Faith No More's best-known albums aren't quite as good as they could be. The Real Thing finally gets a much-needed remaster, at least.
When Faith No More released Sol Invictus, their first album in 18 years, Rhino Records was ready. With interest in the band presumably high, the company that specializes in nostalgia has released two-disc editions of the band’s two best-known albums, 1989’s The Real Thing and 1992’s Angel Dust. It’s the perfect opportunity to give the records a loving remaster and carefully curate bonus discs full of B-sides and other rarities. Alternatively, it’s also the perfect opportunity for a record company to throw together a couple of bonus discs full of middling live tracks a call it a day, hoping for a cheap cash-in opportunity.
The end result of these reissues lies somewhere in between those options, but definitely leans toward the “thrown together cash-in” side of the equation. A statement from the band in late April laid out the situation. “Most of you have probably heard news about upcoming Angel Dust and Real Thing reissues, and the latest statements seem imply that these are band sponsored releases. In fact, they are Warners/Rhino re-issues (who still own the license to them). This is not to say that they are not worth getting…it’s just that they are not coming from us. Hope that makes sense. Thanks.” With neither the band nor their longtime producer, Matt Wallace, being involved in this project, there’s definitely an aura of missed opportunity here. But it hasn’t always been easy for Faith No More fans to track down the band’s non-album tracks, and these releases remedy that.
The Real Thing was released in 1989 and made a minor splash in the alternative metal community. But it didn’t take off until 1990, when “Epic” became a big radio hit and the video turned into an MTV staple. The album itself still holds up as a fascinating and entertaining smorgasbord of styles, which keeps it from feeling dated. Mike Patton’s vocals are a huge improvement over former singer Chuck Mosley’s tuneless shouting on the band's previous two albums, 1985's We Care a Lot and 1987's Introduce Yourself. However, listening today, with the benefit of 25 years’ worth of Patton’s amazing vocals over an incredible range of different projects, his nasally singing on The Real Thing sounds a bit thin. The extensive liner notes, assembled by Malcolm Dome and taken from a variety of archival interviews, address this with a quote from Matt Wallace. “One of two things happened -- one, he was trying to keep that kind of snotty, punky, rap persona…or another possibility was that he still had a lot of loyalties to Mr. Bungle, and I think he wanted to separate himself as the singer from Mr. Bungle and Faith No More.”
Wallace’s production is both thin and top-heavy, which was typical for the time, and it’s always made Martin’s guitars sound great, but drums, bass, and keyboard suffer from a noticeable lack of power on the original mix. The reissue, remastered by Geoff Pesche, corrects that sonic issue. Now everything has punch, which is preferable, although audiophiles may disagree. Pesche has brought the record into the 21st century, which means that everything is loud, so loud, even the quiet parts. So listeners exchange a thin, top-heavy original mix for one that treats all the instruments equally but sacrifices dynamic range.
As for the supplemental disc, it’s pretty typical for this sort of reissue. Considering that Mike Patton famously joined the band and wrote all of the melodies and lyrics for The Real Thing in less than two weeks, it’s not surprising that there wasn’t a lot of extra material from this era of the band. “Cowboy Song” and “The Grade” are studio B-sides previously available on the band’s lackluster concert album Live at Brixton Academy. They seem to have been misnamed at some point and never corrected, as “The Grade” is a song consisting of a two-minute cornpone acoustic slide guitar solo, while “Cowboy Song” has lyrics that concern teens contemplating suicide and nothing to do with cowboys. There’s also the radio edit of “Epic”, which adds layers of vocals to the refrain, pumps up the synthesizer orchestra hits, and excises half of the instrumental break in the middle of the song. The Matt Wallace Remix of “Falling to Pieces” sounds exactly the same as the album version to my ears, and the extended remix of “From Out of Nowhere” pointlessly splices extra refrains into the song.
The bit that indicates laziness on Rhino’s part is the inclusion of “Sweet Emotion”, a lost B-side that originally showed up as an extra in Kerrang! Magazine. It’s a pretty cool song, but Rhino didn’t bother to include its sister track, “The Perfect Crime”. Both songs share the same instrumental track, but Patton’s lyrics and vocal performance are completely different. But “Perfect Crime” appeared on the soundtrack to Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, released by Interscope and not Warner Bros., so it presumably would’ve cost a little more to acquire. But it would have been an interesting side-by-side comparison.
The second disc is filled out with a handful of the aforementioned middling quality live tracks. The most interesting are a pair of Mosley-era songs with Patton singing. “Chinese Arithmetic” features Patton riffing on the early ‘90s hit “It Takes Two”, but immediately descends into audio mush once Patton starts doing the song’s actual vocals. “As the Worm Turns” has one of the band’s best early grooves, but short of totally scrapping Mosley’s lyrics and performance and starting over, there’s little Patton can do to make the song work from a singing standpoint.
Angel Dust remains the band’s career highpoint, and one of the best albums of the 1990s. Gone is the nasally delivery. Here we have Mike Patton fully integrated into the band and the entire ensemble embracing the weirdness. From the deeply sarcastic “Land of Sunshine” onward, Patton delivers a tour de force performance that is matched at every turn by the rest of the band. Billy Gould and Mike Bordin are locked in as a rhythm section, from the goth-funk groove of “Be Aggressive” to the tribal beats and pulsing bass of “Midlife Crisis” to the amazing rimshot and bass interlude that gives “Caffeine” its atmosphere. Roddy Bottum’s keyboards are everywhere, providing background in guitar-heavy tracks like “A Small Victory” but coming to the fore to play the melody in the spoken-word “RV” and on “Midnight Cowboy.” He even makes the great call to drive the over the top doom metal of “Jizzlobber” even further over the top with Psycho-style string tones and full-on pipe organ. Jim Martin’s final album with the band was reportedly a contentious one, but he shines as well, with great, heavy riffs on “Everything’s Ruined” and “Kindergarten” and going above and beyond with completely appropriate squalling noise in “Malpractice.” His best moment, however, may be the palm-muted wah-wah guitar sound he creates on the record company-rejected title track “Crack Hitler”. It’s a singular sound in the Faith No More catalog, and it stands out precisely because it doesn’t sound like anything else on the record.
In contrast to The Real Thing, the production on Angel Dust was pretty much flawless at the time, so the remastering on the latter album is undetectable. Pesche deserves credit for at least having the savvy to not mess with a good thing. Apparently later European pressings of the album included the band’s non-album cover of The Commodores’ “Easy”, and that is replicated here. So now the album ends with the chaotic “Jizzlobber” followed by a serene cover of the theme from “Midnight Cowboy” which in turn is followed by a serene cover of “Easy”. It’s unnecessary, sure, but reasonable from an archival point of view.
The bonus disc for Angel Dust is more of the same story. It organizes the relevant b-sides in one place, which is nice. The goofy German language “Das Schutzenfest” and the polka-style cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” are fun, and the studio take on “As the Worm Turns” is probably the best version of that song. Patton finally finds a way to handle Mosley’s lyrics that actually works. The remix of “A Small Victory” is typical of early ‘90s rock remixes in that it cuts and pastes elements of the song together over a less-interesting bassline and drumbeat and adds a bunch of background synth elements that don’t help anything. It also goes on for over seven minutes, which feels like about 15. Still, it’s from that era and deserves to be here.
There are a whopping 10 different live tracks on the disc as well, encompassing everything from “Easy” to “We Care a Lot” and even another Mosley outlier, “Mark Bowen”, as well as the expected Angel Dust songs. The recording quality is listenable but not great; certainly not good enough for an official live album. But the variety is nice. The disc ends with “The World is Yours”, a legitimate Angel Dust outtake. It feels exactly like the sort of song that wouldn’t have made the album at the time, and it’s a meaty and interesting artifact.
One imagines that if Matt Wallace or the band had been involved the remasters would have been a bit better on the two albums. Additionally, more effort may have been made, especially on The Real Thing, to assemble all of the material and better quality live tracks to fill out the bonus discs. There is some effort being put into these releases, but they just aren’t quite as good as they could’ve been. Still, the original albums are amongst the best of the era and worth checking out for those who weren’t around or missed them when they originally came out.