It’s been nearly 20 years since Faith No More released their last studio album, Album of The Year. Since then, Mike Patton, the man who is arguably the band’s main focus, has been remarkably busy. There’s been his label Ipecac, the various bands (including Tomahawk, who perhaps came closest to replacing Faith No More in terms of sound), the video game sound effects, and a short lived acting career in the Lynch-esque Firecracker. Those who required his unique vocal skills in their lives had more than enough to keep them busy over the last few years.
In 2009 the band reformed for some live shows, hinted at the reunion being something more permanent, and suggested that there might, eventually be some new material (those Faith No More Version 2.0 t-shirts were more than just a tease after all).
And so, here it is, Sol Invictus. Given the choice, most Patton aficionados would have preferred a Mr Bungle reunion, but never look a gift horse in the mouth, this is about as good as it is going to get. Opening with Sol Invictus, the slow piano march’s moody and understated opening is at odds with the band’s usual preference for racing out of the traps. It might not set the world on fire but it does feel like a new dawn.
Recent single Superhero takes on the role of setting the album to stun. A far more forceful and all-encompassing track, it’s got a big earworm chorus and a verse that allows Patton to explore that brattish scream that’s populated the likes of Caffeine and Cuckoo For Caca over the years. It’s even got the grandiose mid-section that FNM are so good at utilising. You couldn’t really describe it as a return to form, because Faith No More never really lost form, but it does tick every box on the FNM checklist.
Long term fans of the band will not be disappointed, this is an album that does pretty much everything you would expect from Faith No More. Cone Of Shame for example is a slow burner that initially hides the disturbing imagery of Patton’s lyrics. This is nothing new, he’s been talking about bizarre sexual practices and the darker side of life whilst cloaking it in pop hooks or carefully picked metaphor for years. This time it’s not quite so well camolflaged so by the track’s close, Patton’s careful dismantling of the object of his desire, described in lines like “I like to peel the skin off/I like to strip the bone…” is genuinely disturbing.
Separation Anxiety finds the band back in moody chuggy mood, starting appropriately enough with a claustrophic riff that gradually unfurls, becoming more agitated as Puffy’s drumming lets loose. Sunny Side Up meanwhile finds the band trotting through a piano ballad, as Patton croons like a bamboozled barfly.
Faith No More announced their return to recorded music with Motherfucker, a Black Friday 7″ single. It’s the weakest song on the album by a mile, and within the context of this work seems like a very strange choice to re-introduce the band. Rather than lead with their best foot, they went with something underwhelming; but this is a band that would in-joke each other to an almost destructive level, shove shit into hairdryers, and pour piss on their own heads on stage, so nothing is surprising. That Motherfucker is preceded by a song titled Black Friday that literally bellows “buy it!” could well be another example of the band’s peculiar sense of humour as Patton describes riots at salad bars, and matricidal tendencies bought about by commerce.
Perhaps the finest moment comes in the shape of piano led ballad Matador. It eventually opens out into a labyrinthine colossus of a song and is by far the most complex thing on the album. The band seems to really up their game for the occasion, sounding forceful, insistent, reinvigorated and vital once again. For once Patton is not the focus of the song, despite putting in a fine performance as usual. Instead, the focus is drawn to Puffy’s drumming which is shot through with vital urgency. It’s probably the best thing here.
They close with From The Dead which fulfills the band’s ballad quota nicely. Depicting a homecoming parade, its militaristic drum pattern and nicely executed backing vocals pack an emotional punch. FNM might be best remembered for Easy, or roaring funk rock (both of which really miss the point) but their way with heartfelt ballads is often sadly overlooked. Hopefully that won’t be the case this time.
Sol Invictus is not a bad return, but it’s not the greatest thing Faith No More has ever done. It is good to have them back though and to find that they’re not just going through the motions to keep the cash rolling in. A marker has been laid down, and they’re more than capable of topping this. Hopefully we won’t be waiting another 20 years to find out if they do.