26 May 2015

MIDLIFE CRISIS 23 - The Best FAITH NO MORE Song?



In an article on Consequence Of Sound only last week ranking 'all' Faith No More songs from 'worst to best', 'Midlife Crisis' took the number one spot. Now even though I didn't agree with the list as a whole (as I'm confident any FNM fan wouldn't) it was in fact a great read.




This article begs the question, is 'Midlife Crisis' the greatest FNM song ever?

Let me regale you all with a tale on just how fucking good 'Midlife Crisis' is. No debate just fact.

REIVENTION

MC was a highly anticipated release after the success of the previous groundbreaking album 'The Real Thing' three years earlier. As the first single from 'Angel Dust' released two weeks ahead of the album there was much curiosity of how the band's sound had evolved; a sound which had involved Mike Patton throughout the writing process.  It would be a glimpse of how much the band had matured together and how their uncompromising style had developed. Roddy Bottum confessed to Raw in 1992, 'We all knew specifically what we wanted to avoid, the whole 'funk metal' thing, it was obvious that nobody wanted to follow those lines.'  It was clear effort had been made to put 'The Real Thing' firmly behind them.

MC was certainly unexpected and very different from the last FNM offering 'The Perfect Crime' from the 'Bill &Ted's Bogus Journey Soundtrack'. Critics and the record company themselves we nervous about this new sound.

"Don't you think it's great to see someone twitch? You know, they get really nervous? That happened with our record company. They tried working on each of us individually, persuading us that we didn't know what we were doing. They said it would alienate fans of 'The Real Thing' Ideally they'd like another 'Epic' on there somewhere." - Mike Patton 1992. Kerrang!

This is exactly why FNM are so endearing to their fans, from the beginning they have been pioneers, never cover the same ground twice and with every new album comes a seismic shift in their sound.

The reinvented FNM that 'Midlife Crisis' unveiled is very important on the FNM time line for several reasons.
Firstly it did alienate some of their existing fan base as the record company predicted however in turn attracted a whole new audience and strengthened the loyalty of certain remaining fans.
Secondly the song revealed an all grown up Patton who like the music had evolved. From bright, youthful and mischievous to the sinister, sarcastic and twisted 'shit terrorist'. With this new frontman came a new understanding of his genius as a lyricist and musician.


For myself, I first heard about a minute of MC before it's release. Radio 1 had played the song and a friend had managed to jam a cassette in his twin deck before the end. The 60 second sound bite included part of the sample heavy middle section and the end chorus. I really wasn't sure how to react, I liked it, but found it a radical shift from their previous music. It's an unsettling yet marvellous thing to realise you have only scratched the surface of understanding something you thought you knew pretty well. However I unlike some didn't feel alienated or disappointed by realising I had not completely understood Faith No More, rather nervous with excitement. That cassette got played over and over, and it was great fun guessing at the lyrics until the release of the album. Which lead the realisation that this new sound understandably had to be the natural progression for a band this complex and talented.


When released on May 26th 1992, MC was received by most critics and fans with great enthusiasm. It charted highest in Austria at number 9, number 10 in the Uk charts and number 1 in US modern rock chart. 
'Midlife Crisis twists into a new kind of melody. The difference lies in the tunefulness, the variety of styles within the song - elements we've come to know and love with this band, but not to this degree.' - Raw Magazine
'Musically and lyrically, Faith No More aim for an oxymoronic mix of beauty and brutality with this single' - The Observer 

'On 'Midlife Crisis' Patton starts with a snide, sibilant rap, swoons upward in a jazzy, Al Jarreau-ish arc, then slugs it out in a close combat cut and thrust that's pure hardcore. The lyrics lash and lambaste some middle-class, lard ass, play-safe type who's built up a cocoon of security and comfort. The line 'Your menstruating heart' - doubtless aimed at 'wet liberals' and people who profess to care a lot - is deeply revealing. For FNM, feelings of tenderness, empathy and solidarity are threatening, female and fluid, a loathsome discharge.' - Melody Maker



THE MUSIC

The mood of MC shifts between eerie verses and brilliantly euphoric choruses.
Mike Bordin's perfectly timed rhythm introduces the song. This percussive snap is one of those signature drum parts that Puffy does so well, instantly recognisable like 'We Care A Lot' and 'The Real Thing', although not at all what is expected of a 'rock anthem'. Here a sample taken from Simon and Garfunkel's song 'Cecilia' accompanies the beat.


Roddy commented on this in 2012, 'It was one of the first songs I heard when I was a kid and I think I sampled it cause I had a funny relationship with it. the song was kind of built around the rhythm of that sample.'

Bill Gould described his bass line on MTV's Post Modern in 1992 as 'a lesson in discipline, I literally play one note throughout the song', this 'one note' is the systematic backbone of the song. The haunting string sound of Roddy's keys add colour, however shadowy. While Patton's hoarse whispered vocal rolls in synchronisation with the percussion. Patton chooses words that are sharp and clear, and like a snake spiting venom at its prey he seems to over pronounce each syllable. His harmonies throughout the song are clever and precise, much more adventurous than those on the previous album. Jim Martin's guitar crunch leads the chorus and brings the first light of a major key which lifts the melancholy feel. During which a familiar Patton voice gives us the most inspiring yet twisted lyrics on the album, sung with such vigour you can taste the sarcasm. The middle section is flooded with samples, there are noises whirring from left to right, taken from Beastie Boys song 'Car Thief'. A screech drops us into the breakdown, which is a glorious melodic outburst that makes the listener want to stand up and thank the stars for stereo, volume and Faith No more! MC fades out with perfectly with multiple layers of Patton's chorus lines.

An elaborate description?...... Yes but this song deserves so many positive adjectives!


Bill spoke about the writing process of the song to Kerrang! in 1998, 'Everybody's responsible for this one. It was a keyboard part that started it....it was a period of time when everyone was waiting for us to come up with another record and promising us the world. All we had to do is what we do, but the way they saw we were a little defiant, which I think the lyrics reflect in a way. From my position I wanted to do a song that had only one note to the whole thing, but would still be a song. So I wanted it to have one bass part that never changed. It wasn't until we recorded it that our producer saw where I was trying to go, but at the time it seemed like shooting yourself in the foot y'know.'

FNM have always thrived from the inner tensions caused by the different personalities of the members, it's always been a part of the process. Most of all during the writing of 'Angel Dust' the relationship between Jim and rest of the band is documented to be highly strained. This can be heard literally within the song itself, Roddy's electronic pop sounds versus Jim's earthy rock guitar chords. The turmoil between light and dark. Like a stormy sea raging while clouds roll gracefully along high above. You get the idea.
The band have described the track as their attempt to make a slick pop song and were surprised to find it described as dark and heavy by critics. In testament to this the song actually had the working title of 'Madonna' which was continued be used on set-lists.

Patton explained in 1992, 'The song is based on a lot of observation and a lot of speculation. But in sort of a pointed way its kind of about Madonna...I think it was a particular time where I was being bombarded with her image on TV and in magazines and her whole schtick kind of speaks to me in that way...like she's going through some sort of problem. It seems she's getting a bit desperate.'


THE LYRICS

'You're perfect yes it's true, but without me you're only you.'

This unforgettable line of prose surely stands out as some of the most powerful and poetic of all Faith No More's lyrics. MC doesn't play out a story with characters as is the case with several songs on 'Angel Dust', it rather creates a mood which intensifies and shifts like Patton's schizophrenic vocals.

As with most of his lyrics Patton has never really elaborated on the meaning but he has said that its not so much about a midlife crisis, as he couldn't empathise in what it would feel like, but 'it's more about creating false emotion, being emotional, dwelling on your emotions and in a sense inventing them.' His references to Madonna we would guess are to deceive and mock the press. However Patton's preference to using a word due to it's sound rather than it's meaning seems to be the case here.

As fans and critics ourselves, and from a need to gain better understanding of Patton and a song of we will analyse to attribute meaning. It's easy to recognise the theme of 'age' or more precisely different stages of life regularly occur on 'Angel Dust'. MC can be interpreted in many ways, one popular theory is that song is a story of child abuse and violence passed on inherently from father to son. This behaviour resulting in self loathing and an uncertainty of ones self control.


Patton himself spoke about our need to translate his words in French magazine Rock Hard very recently'I don’t like talking about my lyrics because I like people to appropriate them and interpret them in their own way. It is this mystery which is amusing. A lot of groups dissect their lyrics in interviews; I find that a pity. Because if you say too much there is less thinking on the part of the listener. A record, for me, must remain an adventure. You put it in your player and you go and discover it like you walked for the first time in in a forest or visited a new adventure park. That is why am very protective of my lyrics. It is not that important that some of our fans are not Anglophones and and don’t understand anything that I sing; I prefer that they imagine them. When you buy a painting to put on your wall, I does not come with a note explaining what signifies this or that colour. It’s exactly the same which whatever piece of art.'


Go on and wring my neck
Like when a rag gets wet
A little discipline
For my pet genius
My head is like lettuce
Go on dig your thumbs in
I cannot stop giving
I'm thirty-something

Sense of security
Like pockets jingling
Midlife crisis
Suck ingenuity
Down through the family tree

You're perfect yes, it's true
But without me you're only you
Your menstruating heart
It ain't bleedin' enough for two

It's a midlife crisis...

What an inheritance
The salt and the kleenex
Morbid self attention
Bending my pinky back
A little discipline
A donor by habit
A little discipline
Rent an opinion

Sense of security
Holding blunt instrument
Midlife crisis
I'm a perfectionist
And perfect is a skinned knee

You're perfect yes it's true
But without me you're only you
Your menstruating heart
It ain't bleedin' enough for two

It's a midlife crisis...



THE VIDEO

The video for MC is arguably the best FNM video of all time. Directed by Kevin Kerslake it is dark, dramatic and cinematic abstract, a perfect visualisation of the song's temperament. In the video each member of the band is dressed in a random outfit, Bill sports a 50s gangster style fedora and Patton welds a shovel like some movie serial killer.
Religious icons, choirboys and images of horses 'quartering' a torso are all in the mix of onscreen drama. The use of soft focus close ups, overexposure and time lapse filmed sequences produces a polished artistic video that can't be likened to any for the rock genre previously.   The styling of this video sets the precedent for many to follow, 'A Small Victory', 'Digging The Grave', 'Another Body Murdered' and 'Ashes to Ashes' in particular have similar direction. Even though it seems America didn't embrace this in the same way they did 'Epic', European and Australian MTV played MC on heavy rotation.




THE PERFORMANCE
'Midlife Crisis' has been a permanent fixture on FNM's setlist ever since 1992 and transfers perfectly to the stage. It's always eagerly awaited by the crowd who join in the chorus along with Patton with a sense of joy and pride, dare I use the word 'anthem'. Of course any live performance of the song will take your breath away but one in particular was featured on Hanging with MTV. This live show aired in 1992 and songs from the session feature on the FNM video release 'Video Croissant'.







I saw MC performed live for the first time at Wembley stadium in 1992. Every time I hear the song to this day it conjures up images of Patton creeping and crawling around the stage back arched like that venomous snake again in attack position before throwing himself on the ground like he's being poked with a stick. From the same tour May 20th 1992, in Prague.


And finally Faith No More performing MC 23 years after it's original release at The Wiltern, April 23rd 2015.

THE CONCLUSION
So that's it, 'Midlife Crisis' in detail, one of the best FNM songs to date. I apologise if it was a bit elaborate and long-winded but to me it is the best example of their incomparable twisted perfection, the music and the lyrics. 
It will be played at my funeral along with 'Surprise! You're Dead' and 'You're perfect yes it's true, but without me you're only you' will be scribed on my tombstone when I'm gone. It reminds me if my youth....of 1992....and of how FNM became so important to the world. 






Redited version of an article I wrote on FNM blog in 2012.  

3 comments:

  1. Such a detailed analysis thanks for this. Although Jizzlobber is the best FNM song.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Again, these are great marketing tools, so artists will often post them to help promote their albums.
    pop music videos

    ReplyDelete
  3. I remember vaguely a "harder" version with a longer intro (?) being part of my life around 1993. Anyone an idea how to find this version?

    ReplyDelete