Every now and again in music something comes along that is unique, different and just so god damn hard to categorise. So what happens, where do these strange new records slot into the shelves of your local record store? How do the media decide to describe these crazy new sounds to make it easier for themselves to determine which magazines should write the reviews? And how do the record labels know which group of trendy characters to sell their product to?
They get their heads together create a NEW genre!
In the mid 80s bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Living Colour and Fishbone were getting attention with a vibe that mixed funkier urban rhythms and sounds with distorted guitars and heavy beats more readily used in rock. Aerosmith collaborated with Run DMC, Anthrax with Public Enemy, Sir Mix A lot with Metal Church and these crossovers of genres were appealing all sorts of music fans. Time for some new 'press happy' phrases to put this craziness in order..... Alternative Metal was born, sub genres Rap Metal and Funk Metal. Of course years before all this Sabbath and Zepplin were playing around with funky beats under heavy guitars, and Bowie was throwing all types of sounds in together, but in those simpler times it was all just 'rock'.
How often the term funk metal was used before the release of The Real Thing in 1989 I do not know (and frankly I can't be arsed researching that) but it was used many times to describe the third album by Faith No More.
As the press of 1989 couldn't find a category to neatly file TRT under they chose the recently created funk metal and FNM just shrugged their shoulders.
At the time of release FNM were indifferent to the phrase, like any artist they didn't want their work to be pigeonholed but it didn't seem to irk them until the end of 1990 when the term was fired at them in almost every interview. FNM began to loathe this sign that had been hung around their necks and their reaction was to do everything in their creative power to write a forth album that would shove funk metal up the media's rear end!
Roddy Bottum 1989 ( when asked if he thinks they are funk metal )
"Not really, no. A couple of years ago. If you would have asked me that. I would have never thought I would be involved with something that they would call metal. It's really strange. I think we're being marketed that way by our record company because they would rather have a comfortable label on us than to come up with some type of adjective. I don't think the rest of the band would say it's metal either, even the people who are most into metal. I guess it's ok for a category This time around we'll be getting a more metal crowd, which is weird It's going to take some getting used to."Bill Gould 1992
"For some reason, all music has to be segregated and labelled, the only reason can think of for that is to give the marketing departments in record companies, and the press, a black-and white substance to work with. God, without labels, there'd be no business, apparently. But it's the labels that confuse everything. Faith No More are, evidently, a 'Funk Metal' band. Actually, we are, but we're a lotta other things too. But maybe a category with, like, ten words in it is too ong for the press and record companies to handle..."As much as bands hate to be labelled in such a way it has it's advantages for the listener as well as the media. These little sub genres can sometimes help us find music in a similar vein which may turn us on as much as the other.
I have to admit this was the case for me, and I liked the phrase when I first discovered FNM, it sounded cool in 1990, 'What type of music do you like? Pop.....What about you? I like Funk fucking metal baby....I'm alternative!' Let's face it Metal and Funk are two of the coolest genres going.
That said I, like the band, don't think TRT was funk metal, it had elements of funk and metal sure but also punk, pop, thrash, soul, jazz, tribal can we try and combine a those into a handy phrase. I think bands like RHCP, Mordred and Extreme are better contenders for a funk metal tag but not FNM.
If TRT only had two songs and they were Falling To Pieces and Underwater Love I may have been more ready to understand the reasoning behind it but Surprise! You're Dead!? Edge Of The World? Zombie Eaters? I really don't think so.
This brings me to the song I wanted to appraise in this article the afore mentioned Underwater Love. Let's start with the song itself and my customary elaborate description.
Roddy Bottum and Bill Gould truly make this song for me, and it was their songwriting skills that brought it to life. I love Roddy's Hammond organ sound (used in Cowboy song too) it suits the mood of this song in particular, it's a rich and bright tone with a certain purr or low growl and it conjures up images of bubbling waters to accompany the theme of the song.
Billy's funky groove (sorry) on the bass bounces along with a slap and thump that Bootsy Collins would be proud of. The bass takes a staring role in UL which is more noticeable as TRT is generally a more guitar riff friendly album than it's predecessors.
The two elements that always stopped FNM crossing over the line into all out funkadelia are Mike Bordin's beats and Jim Martin's guitar riffs. Here Puffy holds back the swing in his technique ( his jazz swing beat on Edge of The World is awesome ) and drives with his trademark tribal style.
Although Bill it seems would disagree with this as a rule,
Bill Gould 1990.
"A lot of the Rap comes from Mike, our drummer, who took the African rhythm thing - a lot of his beats are African - and he taught me a lot of his beats, so it's got like a Funky rhythmic background, and a lot of the singing, or the guitar, is playing rhythm. So it's not necessarily Rapping, but as a rhythm thing it kind of all fits together. There's been a lot of bands who've played a Funky type Metal sound yet haven't had the attention that we've gotten or the record company behind them the way ours is. So maybe we're taking a lot of credit for what people have been doing for a long time."
Big Jim takes more of subdued role in UL his guitar rhythm rather formal and methodical.
Mike Patton's early 'nasal' sound some seem to regard as an annoying adolescent phase he had to grow out of, but his tone reminds me of Lenny Williams from Tower of Power, Sly Stone or Stevie Wonder and I love it. And I'm glad to I hear those tones occasionally in his voice on later albums. Also the falsetto repetition 'touch me from below' is certainly a goosebumps moment.
I do find it hard to imagine Chuck Mosley's voice as a part of this song although it would be interesting to hear how he would've tackled it.
We know that Patton wrote all the lyrics to TRT in a matter of weeks before recording, and they are absolutely captivating. They don't have the hidden meanings or the overt cynicism of Angel Dust and King For A Day, instead they have an innocence and brattish quality to match his personality at 21 years of age. UL lyrics are some of the most delightfully twisted on the album, there's no disguising the subject is the drowning of a lover. This line in particular 'Liquid seeps into your lungs...But your eyes look so serene' gives us a clear image of this perverse scene. It seems the further down Patton's career we go the less willing he is talk about the meaning of his scribings, but in TRT era he gives us more of an insight.
Mike Patton 1989.
"It's not something I've tried, there is an obsessive kinda love out there and it's about that kinda love. Love and death go hand in hand"
Here is an article article published in 2012 (can't find the source). It is a rather amusing attempt from an angry mother to get UL removed from the album because of the lyrical content.
Wendy Moncrief of Wausau, Wisconsin is dead serious about protecting what her 14-year-old daughter Stacia is exposed to. She doesn’t let her watch TV or listen to FM radio. She even goes as far as to monitor her every move on the internet. “Some people may see me as slightly overprotective, but I only want what is best for my daughter. There are too many negative influences in the world these days that didn’t exist when I was growing up in the 80′s” said Mrs. Moncrief.
Everything seemed to be working as planned until she found a cassette copy of Faith No More’s “The Real Thing” along with a few other questionable items in a lockbox under her daughter’s bed. Her first reaction was a bit of personal failure, but then she decided to attempt to mobilize other parents of teenagers by creating a petition to have one very offensive song removed from the album. In her own words:
“The song “Underwater Love” is potentially very dangerous. Yes, I can see it is not new, and the album was released back in 1989. I’ve never heard of it, but it is disgusting. The song is obviously encouraging our children to become mermaids and such, which may sound all cute, until of course your child drowns…then what??? The band was very negligent to children when it wrote this song. I think they should remove it peacefully, or by force if necessary. I’m sure they won’t go quietly. These rock and roll bands are all the same with their drugs and such. Also, anyone with a brain knows that the song “Woodpecker From Mars” is an attempt to brainwash and indoctrinate our kids into becoming mindless robot liberals. You can tell that just by looking at the title.” She rambled off more complaints, but they were just to bizarre to keep up with.
Moncrief so far has 14 signatures. If she gets to 16, we’ll be very surprised. We’ll have more on this story after the indecision ca-louds our vision....
Like a few songs on TRT, Underwater Love was dropped from the set in 1991 and hasn't made it back on there since. Maybe this decision was an attempt to shake the funk metal label all together. Even though there was a nod to that funky sound on AD the later albums lost it completely. FNM continued to experiment with different genres and continued to make groundbreaking musical advances but never wondered back into the murky realms of funk metal. Which kind of proves that the media were wrong to stamp the band with the label so very early in there career. After TRT the media gave up trying to pigeonhole FNM to some extent settling on referring to them as mere Alternative, and the dreaded phrase only ever appears in articles such as this one.
As a song I don't think UL has the grandiose spendour of The Real Thing or Zombie Eaters, or the power of Epic and From Out Of Nowhere but it's pop funk tones are perfectly played on the album to counter the darker more fierce songs like The Morning After, and it stands as an awesome piece of music from the era when FNM evolved from cult cool to groundbreaking contenders.
I'm not trying to convince anybody that FNM were funk metal or that TRT should ever be classed as such, as I said earlier I don't think they are. But I had the describe the sound of this one song I might use both those words in the same sentence.