WHAT WAS I THINKING? It’s an often painfully embarrassing question we ask to ourselves during personal moments of retrospective self-examination when we look back at the clothes, trends, music, and friends that once consumed us. Possibly the most shameful era being the 1980s. For many, much of the allure of that neon-colored, spandex-clad, hair-sprayed era now has lost its luster, or at least it should have. And for good reason, especially when it comes to music. Remember hair bands? But even during the ‘80s, you occasionally could find a rose among the thorns.
After developing uncompromising cred on the underground scene for a couple of years, the San Francisco-based alternative band, Faith No More, dropped their third slab just at the tail end of the decade, thirty years ago this week. Coming off two acclaimed indie records with original vocalist, Chuck Mosley, The Real Thing featured new lead vocalist and charismatic ringleader, Mike Patton. Over the next eighteen months, Faith No More would become bona fide rock stars, as The Real Thing would hit the Top 20, enjoy platinum sales and earn multiple Grammy nominations.
Faith No More was one of the last great rock groups where you knew each guy in the band. And each guy was a vital component of the band. In the specific case of The Real Thing, if any one of those components were removed from the equation, the whole thing would have crumbled like a house of cards.
There’s no way you don’t know this “Epic” song and music video.
What made The Real Thing so special, so powerful, so fun, yet so “real,” was that it refused to be defined by the era, or by musical genres. By embracing such an array of styles, including rock, pop, rap, funk, prog, metal, jazz and a splash of show tunes flare, it truly defined what an “alternative” record should have been. For hungry rock fans salivating for something truly fresh and tasty, experiencing The Real Thing was like entering an aural version of The Golden Corral. Musically, it was all there, roast beef, ham, chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans carrots, biscuits, cornbread and a delicious bounty of desserts; cookies, cakes, and pudding.
Produced by Matt Wallace (Maroon 5, The Replacements, 3 Doors Down), The Real Thing had so much going on, you didn’t know where to look. And it worked, beautifully. A master storyteller, Patton’s vocals were unique and seemingly without limitations. Powerhouse drummer, Mike Bordin played as if he was breaking bricks with each tom crack, while “Ugly” Jim Martin’s bone-crunching, 200-pound guitar riffage was unlike anything heard since the early days of Black Sabbath. Bill Gould’s bass lines were so fat and moist, you could almost taste and touch them, arguably the record’s unsung MVP. In the corporate rock day of REO Speedwagon, Journey and Foreigner, keyboardist, Roddy Bottum, was in a league all of his own. Carrying the melodies more so than even the guitars, Bottum’s string patches and pads were singular for the time. Furthermore, his contribution to the record made these songs all zing like a crazed Mexican fiesta.
But more than anything, what The Real Thing had going for it most was the songs. The songwriting process involved Patton handling the lion’s share of the lyrics, while Gould and Bottum provided the majority of the musical heavy lifting.
A press shot of the band’s revised lineup circa 1989:
The lead-off video single, “From Out of Nowhere” opens the record with heart-stopping urgency, demanding that you sit down, shut up and pay attention. The second video single, “Epic,” was the game-changer, so fresh and fun it could not be ignored. It wasn’t the first time rock had jumped into bed with rap, but it likely was the first time the two “came” together so convincingly. But the real key to the song’s appeal was its irresistible hook and melody. The clever video helped too. Who doesn’t still feel for that poor fish?
Another popular, eye-catching video single, “Falling to Pieces,” was an equally fun, rap-fueled track, while “Surprise! You’re Dead!” possessed the capacity to literally explode from the cassette deck. Glossed throughout with spooky-sounding keyboards, seemingly inspired by Saturday afternoon horror flicks, the instrumental seduction, “Woodpecker From Mars” was gloriously blistering.
Recently, a 17-year-old kid informed me that Faith No More’s remake of “War Pigs” was “way more fucking awesome” than the original Sabbath version. Out the mouths of babes, indeed. Slinky, smokey and strangely sexy, “Edge of the World” takes the sharpest stylistic left-hand turn, closing out the record exactly where you least expected. Do you want some candy?
In sum, it was precisely the right record at precisely the right time. Thirty years later, The Real Thing remains an important record and still bites down hard enough to draw blood, or at least hard enough to leave a nasty gash.
The music video for “Falling To Pieces” is about as retro as you can get!
The Real Thing Track Listing:
01. From Out of Nowhere (3:22)
02. Epic (4:53)
03. Falling To Pieces (5:15)
04. Surprise! You’re Dead! (2:27)
05. Zombie Eaters (5:58)
06. The Real Thing (8:13)
07. Underwater Love (3:51)
08. The Morning After (3:43)
09. Woodpecker from Mars (5:40)
10. War Pigs (7:45)
11. Edge of the World (4:10)
Run Time: 54:58
Release Date: June 20, 1989
Record Label: Slash / Reprise