Can a classic recording be imperfect? Can a work of art's reputation be bigger, better than the work itself? The newly-reissued Faith No More debut suggests that the answer is maybe.
Faith No More’s debut LP We Care a Lot has been out of print for more than 20 years. It’s where the San Francisco band’s story really started, the gateway to later success with albums such as The Real Thing, Angel Dust and Album of the Year. When the record arrived in in the dimming days of 1985 the music world was thirsty for something new. Thrash metal had taken the epic nature of progressive rock, the heaviness of its mother genre and the energy of punk and delivered a potent alloy that remains unstoppable and unstoppable. It was a genre that had found its greatest purchase in New York and in the San Francisco Bay Area, the very place that Faith No More called home. That San Francisco no longer exists. Still, there are phantoms from the era that lurk virtually everywhere. It’s in the genetic makeup of the early Metallica albums, the legacy of Primus and others who sneaked out from the underground and into the spotlight by the end of the Reagan decade. Like its peers Faith No More was prone to restlessness, strange left turns, associative leaps.
Self-financed and recorded on a former chicken ranch north of the city We Care a Lot’s only frills came from the music itself. The band’s moniker and its logo suggested something quasi-religious or quasi anti-religious. You couldn’t really be sure. What point would there be to the art if it had not ambiguity? The record has been reissued now with a range of bonus tracks, including demos and new mixes.
Some of the criticisms that have been brought against We Care a Lot through the ages remain pertinent. Those associative leaps and stylistic bounds hadn’t quite congealed; there’s frequently a chasm between ambition and ability; vocalist Chuck Mosley’s voice is an acquired taste. The excitement of the record comes as much from its successes as from those places where it teeters on the precipice of good and bad art. Predicting where it will soar and where it will shatter becomes impossible after a time. The listener’s only choice is to sit back and take the ride and enjoy it for what it is.
The titular track remains a strong point, a catalog of the things that were hip to care about in 1985 from natural disasters to famine and addiction. The lyrics work because the band isn’t being entirely ironic about the matter. It’s not that they don’t care; it’s that others only care for 15 minutes. Musically, the tune gets its gusto from the rhythm section of drummer Mike “Puffy” Bordin and bassist Billy Gould whose lines teem with both playfulness and danger.
To say that the band lacked pop ambition in those early days would be a lie. There are hooks and grooves that Madonna would have been happy to bring to either the radio or the dance floor. Witness the goth vibe of “The Jungle”, the layers of darkness wrapped around the vocals and the leaden wallop wielded by Bordin and Gould while keyboardist Roddy Bottum channels both the Doors and Blue Orchids.
Meanwhile, “Mark Bowen” feels like a half-realized anthem that begs for a stronger arrangement and a vocal performance that allows the listener to find nuance. The same might be said for “Why Do You Bother?” which comes off more like a rowdy sing-a-long on the football bus after a particularly close victory. Just when you think our lads have lost it, though, they whip out “Greed”, a harbinger of things to come: the song is heavy without being dumb, arty without being pretentious, and Mosley acquits himself nicely with a performance that perfectly matches the music’s whomp and wow. “Pills For Breakfast” has all the muscle of latter-day FNM while “As the Worm Turns” seems to be missing the scintilla of attitude that would carry it to the stratosphere. If “Arabian Disco” was an attempt to cross Talking Heads with the Cure it works on that basis alone.
The three 2016 remixes add new dimension to “We Care a Lot", “As the Worm Turns” and “Pills For Breakfast”. Demo versions of “Greed” and “Mark Bowen” are almost preferable to the final versions while two 1986 live cuts are nice but perhaps unnecessary artifacts.
The final verdict, then? The original We Care a Lot could have been trimmed down to a cohesive and earth-scorching EP. Having it back in circulation gives obsessives a chance to embrace it with new fervor (and new packaging). The record hasn’t aged badly it’s just not as good as what would come.
But, hey, that’s what debuts are for.