BOOK REVIEW | "SMALL VICTORIES: THE TRUE STORY OF FAITH NO MORE" BY ADRIAN HARTE
photo & text by nacrowe
SMALL VICTORIES: THE TRUE STORY OF FAITH NO MORE (JAWBONE PRESS, 2018) is an exhaustively RESEARCHED and adroitly CRAFTED biography of the expansive GENRE-DEFYING creative unit that is FAITH NO MORE. since discovering the band via a BRITISH classmate's taped copy of ANGEL DUST (SLASH, 1992) back in middle school shortly after arriving in NIGERIA in 1996, the band has continued to be one of my all-time FAVORITE groups (along with DEVO, THE SMITHS, MASSIVE ATTACK and JANE'S ADDICTION) through all of its iterations. reading this book was a bit of REVELATION, as it truly ENLIGHTENED and EDUCATED the reader to the inner personal dynamics of the group and the INSPIRATIONS and ALLUSIONS present in much of their EXTENSIVE catalogue. reading this book is not necessary to properly appreciate the music of FAITH NO MORE, but it brought their CAREER and LEGACY into a proper focus that i had hitherto not fully appreciated.
like most fans, i am obsessed with the work of MIKE PATTON, in and of his involvement with FAITH NO MORE. he's been on a CREATIVE STREAK for years with his myriad of COMPELLING yet DISPARATE projects like the seminal MR BUNGLE as well as FANTOMAS, TOMAHAWK, LOVAGE, PEEPING TOM and COLLABORATIONS with the likes of ZU, HANDSOME BOY MODELING SCHOOL, THE DUB TRIO and composer JOHN ZORN among many others. PATTON is very much a singular entity in modern music well beyond the confines of ALTERNATIVE ROCK and is UNIVERSALLY CELEBRATED by most modern rock musicians, end stop. SMALL VICTORIES makes the INTRIGUING CONNECTION between the CHARACTER STUDIES he inhabits in his lyrics and his formal pre-band STUDIES as an ENGLISH major in college, which i was most definitely not aware of. but it makes total sense since his FEARLESSNESS as a VOCALIST and writer come from a PERFORMATIVE need to due the MATERIAL justice (regardless of its author), not of SELF-EXPRESSION per se. case in point, PATTON's abundant ENTHUSIASM to sing "BE AGGRESSIVE" on ANGEL DUST, a song about the pleasure of homosexual oral sex as written by bandmate RODNEY BOTTUM about his own experience with the subject. for PATTON, this was a SINGULAR professional OPPORTUNITY and CHALLENGE presented to him that he did hesitate from, instead throwing himself into the track. something arguably most IMAGE-CONSCIOUS frontmen from the period would have second thoughts regarding, not wanting to associate themselves with what was then still very much a TABOO subject that would raise questions about their MASCULINITY (which we all know is bullshit). it is a FASCINATING dynamic that the singer, usually the focal point of a band, within the context of FAITH NO MORE, is just ANOTHER INSTRUMENT. in fact, the core of the creative unit is essentially BASSIST BILLY GOULD and KEYBOARDIST BOTTUM (who were childhood friends) and DRUMMER MIKE BORDIN. this means that one of the truly INNOVATIVE and INVENTIVE modern rock bands was steered in general not by the GUITARIST or lead SINGER, but rather by the RHYTHM SECTION. its a wholly UNIQUE situation in that regard and a sign of each members' ability to control their ego for the sake of the whole, especially the VOCALIST.
that being the case, the band was blessed with two entirely DIFFERENT yet highly EFFECTIVE generationally TALENTED frontmen in CHUCK MOSELY and MIKE PATTON. this was after years of a rotating cast of stand-ins that even famously included COURTNEY LOVE at one point. for GOULD, BOTTUM and BORDIN the focus was on the quality of the INSTRUMENTALS and the VOCALS was an ancillary necessity in order to secure live gigs. same with GUITARISTS. if you listen to ANGEL DUST the CRUSHING guitars fo not take center stage but act as a rhythmic bed for the EXTENSIVE PRODUCTION elements like the PROMINENT SAMPLES and KEYBOARDS and processed VOCALS. that immersive aural landscape is what provided contextual COMPLEXITY for the more traditional DISSONANT guitar tones of JIM MARTIN, and is what made that record such a MIND-MELTING experience for the listener. FAITH NO MORE were not a straight METAL band, or arguably a METAL band at all, but their SOUND transformed sonic expectations for the genre through such EXPERIMENTATION, as well as their SPECIALIZED sense of HUMOR and CONTRARIAN penchant for ABSURDISM that bucked audience and industry expectations. ultimately it is that STUBBORNNESS that has led them to be such a BELOVED cult(?) band.
SMALL VICTORIES shines in its attention to important details and its fondness for SESQUIEDALIAN passages that immerse the reader into the MINDSET of individual band-members through time. i recommend this book to anyone interested in FAITH NO MORE or the cultural underpinnings and history of the pre-NIRVANA ALTERNATIVE ROCK movement of the late 80s and early 1990s. i am most definitely going to seek out more publications by the author ADRIAN HARTE. SMALL VICTORIES is quite an achievement and one of the better biographies i have read since beginning this blog.
RIP CHUCK MOSLEY
photo & text by nacrowe
in 1996 i moved to NIGERIA and basically hung out with the 8th graders as a sixth grader. i was tall for my age and looking back a lot of the kids on the compound (yes, i lived on a compound) that were my age were pretty lame. they were from places like TEXAS and LOUISIANA and to tell you the truth i am still processing stuff from that time well into my 30s. just the racist bullshit i saw from my direct peers. regardless, there were a string of bands i got into through these older friends: bands like UGLY KID JOE, ALICE IN CHAINS and FAITH NO MORE. by that period i was familiar with the COLLEGE ROCK and ALTERNATIVE ROCK played on 106.7FM KROQ in LOS ANGELES (NIRVANA, SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM, THE OFFSPRING, GREEN DAY), but somehow ALICE IN CHAINS and FAITH NO MORE missed my radar, which is pretty odd in retrospect. maybe i was just clueless or not paying close enough attention in CALIFORNIA.
regardless, once i heard ANGEL DUST (SLASH/REPRISE, 1992) my pre-teen mind was blown completely blown off its hinges. production-wise that album is real mind-bender and i have heard that producers have been A/B-ing their mixes to it, along with SOUNDGARDEN's SUPERUNKNOWN (A&M, 1994), for years. ANGEL DUST sonically is strong departure from its successful predecessor THE REAL THING (SLASH/REPRISE, 1989) as well as previous records during the pre-MIKE PATTON era of singer CHUCK MOSELEY in that it intricately interlaces keyboards, found sounds and even BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD samples into a dense wall-of-sound that is absolutely massive. key songs that showcase this approach include "CAFFEINE," "EVERYTHING'S RUINED," "MALPRACTICE," "LAND OF SUNSHINE," "SMALLER AND SMALLER," "MIDLIFE CRISIS" and "KINDERGARTEN." this expressive, textured sonic landscape is the perfect palette for PATTON's operatic voice to truly take flight and enter orbit beyond the exosphere.
which is to say that PATTON is a truly fearless singer. keyboardist RODDY BOTTUM wrote the song "BE AGGRESSIVE" which lyrically an ode to homosexual oral sex and PATTON conveys it with unflinching gusto and commitment. so much so that i didnt realize what the song was about until high school. again, i was clueless. when i reread the lyrics and i learned what the song was actually about i particularly admired that someone i assumed to be heterosexual (which was a big assumption on my part) would be so unguarded and transparent in his delivery, especially when the album came out in 1992. this topic in a METAL song would be arguably still be considered bold in 2021. it is one thing to promote inclusiveness and support the right's of others, but PATTON basically inhabits another's perspective and really does it justice in this song. so yeah, my adoration of PATTON and his approach to singing really began with this song in particular.
whats interesting is that this sort of boldness was not shared in the band and guitarist JIM MARTIN left shortly thereafter. it was undoubtedly due, from what i've read over the years, to a combination of the lyrical subject matter as well as the less prominent role of the guitar in the overall sound. that is not to say that the album lacks in terms of big riffs and memorable moments surrounding distorted guitar tones, if anything this is "the" FAITH NO MORE album that guitarists dissect and analyze for such. i think he just saw the writing on the wall for what the direction was moving forward and in some ways he is not correct as later albums had a more stripped back aesthetic regarding guitar tones and a multi-layered and multi-textured electronic aesthetic.
i should also mention the boldness of closing the album with an iconic cover of "EASY" by THE COMMODORES. it is a straight take on the easy-listening piano-based ballad by LIONEL RITCHIE that really showcases PATTON's range as well as frames RITCHIE's songwriting abilities. it almost feels like a throwback to a begotten time when the likes of FRANK SINATRA and TONY BENNET would effortlessly cover songs from the GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK. its an odd choice but only in a METAL / ALTERNATIVE ROCK context where everything is formulaic. as an admirer of songwriting, i'm sure FAITH NO MORE just thought it was a great song by a gifted songwriter, their close-minded audience be damned.
so anyway, great album by a great band arguably at the peak of their powers. one of the cornerstone albums of my childhood that still crushes more than 30 years later.