I’ve always considered The Real Thing to be Faith No More’s debut album. Although We Care A Lot is their official debut, it’s an album devoid of one vital ingredient: Mike Patton. Patton’s unique vocal style and his penchant for all things weird took Faith No More from being a run-of-the-mill 80s funk-rock ensemble to being regarded (by me, at least) as one of the finest and most interesting metal bands of the era.
The Real Thing blasts open with the adrenaline-fuelled ‘From Out of Nowhere’, a song which is as direct as it is brilliant: looped synth riffs, a melodic and driving bass-groove, and Patton’s vocals swooping from the nasal tones of the verse, to the powerful chorus. Looking at the metal landscape of the late-80s, this song must have sounded absolutely groundbreaking.
Perhaps the best-known song on the album, ‘Epic’ is the single that catapulted Faith No More into the mainstream, and saw them meet widespread critical acclaim. Minimalist metallic bass slaps collide with Patton’s melodic rapping before kicking into one of the best rock choruses ever recorded. The metallic bass sound combines with swirling synths in the unabashedly poppy ‘Falling to Pieces’: this song is fun and catchy, and gives a dark spin to the usual pop-metal offerings of the late-80s.
‘Surprise! You’re Dead!’ is obnoxious metal at its best: mid-tempo thrash-inspired instrumentation fits perfectly with Patton’s screams of “Surprise! You’re Dead!”. This is quickly followed by ‘Zombie Eaters’, the first half of which is a subdued ballad with finger-picked acoustic guitars and gentle vocals. The song is then smashed wide-open, with dark metal riffs and poisonous vocals.
‘The Real Thing’ probably rates as one of my favourite Faith No More songs. I saw Faith No More play this at Download festival in 2009: it was quite astonishing. It’s a song that has all the hallmarks of Faith No More’s trademark sound: funk-tinged bass-grooves, intricate metal riffs, dark swirling synths, surprising drum patterns, and Patton’s vocal performance which goes from being sensitive and melodic, to powerful and angry.
‘Underwater Love’ marks a low point on the album. Hammond organs rub uncomfortably against dirty slap-bass riffs, with the effect being something incredibly naff. ‘The Morning After’ is a funk-metal thrasher, but through its punkish exterior, there lies a carefully figured song structure that is both surprising and rewarding.
‘Woodpecker From Mars’ fuses emulated gypsy violin sounds with a blistering and detailed metal instrumental. My only gripe with this track is that it would have sounded much better with a real violin rather than a synthesiser. Next, Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ is given a funk-metal overhaul, whilst retaining enough of the feeling of the original to be satisfying as a cover.
The album closes with the raunchy jazz-blues of ‘Edge of the World’. It is a track that could easily find itself being played in a smoke-filled bar during a detective noir film. It has that feeling of post-war Los Angeles sleaze captured so perfectly in Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe series - an excellent song to close an excellent album. Definitely a keeper.