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Revisiting "The Real Thing" by Faith No More

I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

"The Real Thing" (1989) album cover

"The Real Thing" (1989) album cover

Faith No More - "The Real Thing"

Original Release: Slash/Reprise Records, 1989
"Deluxe Edition" 2CD Re-release: Slash/Rhino Records, 2015

When Faith No More's third studio album, The Real Thing, was released in 1989, I doubt that many would have pegged it for platinum success. The oddball Bay Area quintet was breaking in a new lead singer and their forward-thinking, melodic blend of metal, rap, funk and rock certainly didn't "fit" anything that was happening in the then-current hard rock scene—which was awash in generic Aqua-Net glam bands and faceless thrash squadrons. I'll be honest, the only reason Faith No More even registered on my teenage radar at all prior to The Real Thing was because James Hetfield had worn one of their t-shirts in the back cover photos of Metallica's The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited.

As it turned out, The Real Thing was exactly what the stagnating hard rock genre needed at the time. It may have been a 1989 release, but The Real Thing could legitimately be considered the first hard rock album of the experimental, genre-bending 1990s. Powered by the hit singles "Epic," "From Out of Nowhere" and "Falling to Pieces," The Real Thing unexpectedly crashed into the Billboard Top 20, eventually selling more than a million copies in the U.S. and garnering two Grammy nominations.

Faith No More, L-R: Billy Gould (bass), Mike Patton (vox), Mike Bordin (drums), Roddy Bottum (keys), Jim Martin (guitar)

Faith No More, L-R: Billy Gould (bass), Mike Patton (vox), Mike Bordin (drums), Roddy Bottum (keys), Jim Martin (guitar)

Though I love this album now, I must confess that I didn't like "Epic" at all when it first started making a splash on MTV and radio in early '90. I was your basic narrow minded, denim-n-leather clad, Metallica shirt wearin' teenage metal dork at the time and I simply couldn't wrap my head around the bizarre multi-genre soup that FNM was throwin' down at first—it was too different, too strange, too outside of my wheelhouse.

However, the song got so much airplay that it soon became inescapable, and it eventually wormed its way into my psyche. I would find myself singing along with the irresistibly catchy refrain of "Youuuuuu waaaaaant it allllll but youuuuuuu can't haaaaaaaaaaave it..." so much that eventually I had to admit it—I was hooked on the strange new band. I bought The Real Thing and it totally bowled me over, becoming the soundtrack to my junior year of college, and has remained a perennial favorite ever since.

To celebrate this groundbreaking album's 25th anniversary, Rhino Records released an all new, expanded "deluxe edition" of The Real Thing in 2015. The two-CD set contains the original album on disc one and a collection of B-sides, live tracks and alternate versions on disc two. Even a quarter century after its release, The Real Thing still sounds fresh and as far as I'm concerned it can kick the ass of just about anything that's parading around on "rock" radio today.


The Album

The Real Thing hits the ground running with the propulsive "From Out Of Nowhere," which showcases Jim Martin's towering metallic guitar riffing and Roddy Bottum's hide-and-seek keyboard flourishes. Singer Mike Patton quickly proves to be a vocal chameleon, displaying a variety of styles throughout the record—from snotty, punk rock sneering to death-metal shrieking, from white-boy rapping to smooth jazz crooning, this guy can do it all.

The breakthrough hit "Epic" is the next track up and its funky hip-hop/rock hybrid remains as catchy as it did 25 years ago. I still love this song, even if it did provide the blueprint for hundreds of crappy dread-locked late '90s rap-metal combos. "Surprise! You're Dead!" is two and a half minutes of cranium crushing thrash/punk/metal, and "Zombie Eaters" is just plain unsettling. The first half of the song is unexpectedly soothing, with Patton crooning over a bed of acoustics and keyboard soundscapes, till the first chorus kicks in and it gets seriously creepy, with lyrics that seem to equate having a baby with giving up your soul to a heartless automaton ("I hope you never leave... 'cause who would hear me scream?"). The dark 'n' doomy title track leads into the deceptively happy sounding "Underwater Love," which again, takes a dark turn with its lyrics about drowning one's significant other ("Liquid seeps into your lungs, but your eyes look so serene...")

The bass-and-keys heavy instrumental "Woodpecker From Mars" crashes into a reverent cover of Black Sabbath's classic "War Pigs," and finally the album closes with "Edge of the World," a sparse, smoky, piano-based number that sounds like closing time at the jazz cabaret . . . but as usual in Faith No More's world, all is not as it seems. The lyrics, which at first appear to be a simple declaration of love, take on an increasingly disturbing turn as the song's narrator eventually reveals that the object of his apparent obsession is a child ("Sit right down, lay your head on my shoulder... it's not the point that I'm forty years older..."). It's hard not to shudder even as you find yourself singing along with the chorus.

And just like that, The Real Thing is over. After such a sonic roller coaster ride, many first time listeners react with a "What the f*** was that?" while others say, "That was awesome! I gotta hear that again!" Obviously this writer—and several million other listeners/record buyers over the past quarter century—chose the latter option.

"Falling to Pieces"

The Bonus Disc

The Deluxe Edition's second disc contains eleven extra cuts taken from B-sides and import singles, all of which were new to me. My favorite of the three studio extras is "Sweet Emotion" (originally released on a flexi-disc given away with an issue of British rock magazine "Kerrang!"), which is a peppy funk-rocker with no relation to the Aerosmith song by the same name. "Cowboy Song" and "The Grade" (a Zeppelin-esque acoustic guitar jam) round out the bonus studio tracks; both are decent listens but I can see why they were relegated to the backs of singles.

Remixes of "Epic," "Falling to Pieces" and "From Out Of Nowhere" are unnecessary at best, and the remainder of the bonus cuts are live, recorded in Berlin, Germany and at Brixton and Sheffield in the U.K. It's interesting to hear Patton tackle a couple of early FNM songs like "Chinese Arithmetic" and "As the Worm Turns," which were originally recorded before he joined the band. In addition, the live rendition of their "War Pigs" cover provided here is utterly badass, with Patton doing Ozzy proud—a vast improvement over the drunken, half-assed live version of the same song that FNM donated to the 1993 Sabbath tribute album, Nativity In Black. (Plus, in this version you hear Patton scream to the overjoyed Berlin audience, "The Wall is down! THE WALL IS DOWN!", which captures a truly special moment in time.) Overall, the bonus disc contains some interesting nuggets for fans that make an already great listen even better.

"From Out of Nowhere"

Where Are They Now?

Faith No More followed up The Real Thing with 1992's critically acclaimed Angel Dust. Urban legend has it that the band made Angel Dust artsier, weirder, and less commercial than The Real Thing on purpose, in order to lose the trendy MTV fans who simply wanted more songs like "Epic." Angel Dust has become a cult classic in the years since its release, and has also received the deluxe edition double-disc reissue treatment from Slash/Rhino.

Guitarist Jim Martin left FNM in 1993 but the band carried on for several more years and albums before splitting up in 1998. After numerous reunion gigs (sans Martin) during the mid-2000's Faith No More regrouped to record the Sol Invictus album, which was released in 2015.

© 2016 Keith Abt


Kaili Bisson from Canada on June 10, 2016:

I must confess I was one of those people who was hooked by "You want it all...." and loved Epic from the first time I heard it. Great review and now, of course, I have Epic stuck in my brain...