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.