Thursday, July 30, 2015

Album Review: Faith No More - "Sol Invictus"

For more than a decade, Faith No More fell silent as the world at large and the world of music raged around them.  Fans wondered why their favorite band was so conspicuously absent, how the members couldn’t find the wherewithal to get back together and provide some sense to a changing digital landscape.  Now, seemingly in the fashion of most pop culture these days, the influential alt-musicians have come back into vogue, though rather than a ‘hey, remember when’ sentiment, new album “Sol Invictus” seems to be the continued extension of Faith No More’s voice rather than just a re-tread.

The one difficulty of properly reporting and judging any Faith No More project is that one has to factor out the overwhelming pressure applied by the boisterous and relentless Cult of Mike Patton; those fans who vehemently believe that the entirety of Patton’s prodigious and plentiful career is completely above critical reproach.

A large part of the intrigue of “Sol Invictus,” as it has been so many times when Faith No More is involved, is the variety of presentation.  There’s a veritable circus of different tropes and styles, from the repetitive punch of “Superhero” to the pop-rock of “Black Friday.”  Patton and company (and the company part is not to be undersold,) play comfortably in a variety of styles of tropes, giving the listener more for their money.  The album manages to invite all listening styles and tastes, which is a welcome change in an era where every artists is expected to stick to one idiom.

The flip side of that coin is that “Sol Invictus” lacks in cohesion.  There’s very little sense of flow to the record, as disparate sounds will crash haphazardly into one another.  There’s a certain amount of this to be expected among any of the progenitors of alternative music as it began in the ‘90s, but this record is particularly mercurial.  The strung out funk of “Sunny Side Up” launches headlong into the grimy grunge of “Separation Anxiety” without regard for what the transition is.  Secondarily, it’s hard to determine what the singles on this album are.  The concept of ‘single’ is no doubt blurred in this digital era, but it still stands to reason that there are songs which stand out from the others and there’s no individual track that shows enough of a complete concept to be marketed as the album’s anchor.

As with many Patton projects, there’s a certain cloud of smarm that has to be acknowledged saturating much of the album.  It’s hard to listen to “Sol Invictus” and not hear it, whether Patton is singing about being ‘your leprechaun’ or belting out the seemingly earnest chorus of an entire song called “Motherfucker.”  Longtime fans have come to embrace this particular quality as part of the larger Faith No More experience, but newcomers or those trying again for the first time in a long time will need to either accept or ignore if they wish to assimilate the entire production.
That said, “Sol Invictus” has many solid parts, as the slow churn that develops out of “Cone of Shame” and the haunting jingle of “Rise of the Fall” both rise to the occasion and create immersive listening.  In a rare twist, the album is actually better when the musicians involved throw away a lot of their window dressing and simply write good songs.  In this case, substance reigns significantly over style.

So in the end, there is plenty of substance on “Sol Invictus,” it’s just that it’s easier to treat the record as a collection of distant ideas than a singular whole.  Not unlike many Primus records, this album can be a confusing listen if attempting to travel one end to the other, but it’s not a bad ride if you take it in short bursts. 

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