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Faith No More is an American rock band from San Francisco, California, formed in 1979. Before settling on the current name in 1982, the band performed under the names Sharp Young Men and later Faith No Man.
When the Californian rock band Faith No More broke up in 1998, they released the perfect swansong. Despite their mainstream success and festival-headliner status, their quixotic, dysfunctional career was fundamentally defined by kamikaze contrarianism and a wicked, sometimes baffling sense of humour. So what better epitaph than the lyrics of their final single, a cover of the Bee Gees’ I Started a Joke? “I started a joke which started the whole world crying/ But I didn’t see that the joke was on me.”
It turns out that the story behind the cover version is somewhat less poetic. “We had a night off in Guam and we went to some military bar,” bassist Billy Gould explains. “There were big-screen TVs showing hardcore porn and they started playing I Started a Joke on karaoke.” He grins: “It was like God speaking to us: ‘You have to do this song.’”
Faith No More’s kind of story: lurid and absurd. In the 90s, they amused themselves by feeding interviewers jokes, wind-ups and outrageous anecdotes that may or may not have been true. Back together in middle age, they’re expected to be more serious and it’s clearly a strain.
Arguably, Faith No More’s strange career can better be explained by a category error. They may have broken through, with 1989’s platinum album The Real Thing, in the era of Guns N’ Roses and Poison, but they originated in San Francisco in the early 80s. They were post-punk misfits who became mistaken for metalheads. It was bound to cause problems.
With their fusion of heavy metal, funk, hip-hop, and progressive rock, Faith No More have earned a substantial cult following. By the time they recorded their first album in 1985, the band had already had a string of lead vocalists, including Courtney Love; their debut, We Care a Lot, featured Chuck Mosley’s abrasive vocals but was driven by Jim Martin’s metallic guitar. Faith No More’s next album, 1987’s Introduce Yourself, was a more cohesive and impressive effort; for the first time, the rap and metal elements didn’t sound like they were fighting each other.
In 1988, the rest of the band fired Mosley; he was replaced by Bay Area vocalist Mike Patton during the recording of their next album, The Real Thing. Patton was a more accomplished vocalist, able to change effortlessly between rapping and singing, as well as adding a considerably more bizarre slant to the lyrics. Besides adding a new vocalist, the band had tightened its attack and the result was the genre-bending hit single “Epic,” which established them as a major hard rock act.
Following up the hit wasn’t as easy, however. Faith No More followed their breakthrough success with 1992’s Angel Dust, one of the more complex and simply confounding records ever released by a major label. Although it sold respectably, it didn’t have the crossover potential of the first album. When the band toured in support of the album, tensions between the band and Martin began to escalate; rumors that his guitar was stripped from some of the final mixes of Angel Dust began to circulate. As the band was recording its fifth album in early 1994, it was confirmed that Martin had been fired from the band.
Faith No More recorded King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime with Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance. During tour preparations he was replaced by Dean Menta. Menta only lasted for the length of the King for a Day tour and was replaced by Jon Hudson for 1997’s Album of the Year. Upon the conclusion of the album’s supporting tour, Faith No More announced they were disbanding in April 1998. Patton, who had previously fronted Mr. Bungle and had avant-garde projects with John Zorn, formed a new band named Fantômas with Melvins guitarist Buzz Osbourne, Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn, and former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo. Roddy Bottum continued with his band Imperial Teen, who released their first album, Seasick, in 1996. A posthumous Faith No More retrospective, Who Cares a Lot, appeared in late 1998.
In 2009, after 11 years of dissolution, Faith No More staged a reunion tour, playing festivals in Europe and scattered American dates; Jim Martin did not participate, but Jon Hudson and the rest of the band’s 1988 lineup took part. As the band continued to play shows, speculation grew concerning the possibility of a new studio album, and in November 2014, the band confirmed the rumors with the release of a single, “Motherfucker,” titled with their typical cheek. In May 2015, Faith No More released their first album since 1997, Sol Invictus, through Reclamation Records, a label distributed by Patton’s Ipecac imprint; the band supported the release with an extensive tour of the United States, Europe, and South America.