The Real Thing turns 30 this month, and yet I still don’t know what to make of it. In terms of style, substance, and general quality, it’s absolutely all over the place. I would guardedly describe it as a journey of funky new wave rap-metal, and if that depiction sounds ridiculous… well that’s because it is.
First, the good with The Real Thing, Mike Patton introduced himself as one of the most versatile singers in rock music. Perhaps contemporary music period. If he’s not singing scorching falsetto’s, he’s rapping with a notable degree of self-assurance. It’s not all that elegant — nothing about The Real Thing is — but it’s certainly impressive. Patton adjusts to the multiple styles on show, which is just as well given the sheer fluctuation. There’s a certain level of audacity that you just have to admire. The Real Thing is nothing but entertaining.
Then there’s the bad. The whole thing is just a little too ludicrous. It’s genuinely funny, but I’m not entirely sure Faith No More are in on the joke. It’s also very long, or at least if feels lengthy, which makes the inclusion of “War Pigs” even weirder. Sure, it’s entertaining, but when a cover song stands out as one of the most focused moments on the entire record, you know the overall quality is somewhat lacking. However, nothing epitomises The Real Thing more than its closing moments, with a transition from ‘Black Sabbath classic’ to ‘metal-jazz cafe’. Absurd.
It’s easy to see why The Real Thing has its fair share of fans. Extravagance often comes with great amusement. Faith No More may not have the talent of Queen, but they create a similar brand of musical theatre. It’s also clear why some listeners dislike the extravagance. Unfortunately, I remain on the fence, though it’s impossible to deny that The Real Thing is entertaining. In the same way that Roger Moore-era Bond films are entertaining.6 10
Favourite tracks // Surprise! You’re Dead!
Falling to Pieces
I don’t understand The Real Thing and I don’t expect I ever will. It is so many things. It is metal, it is hip hop, it is big band jazz and shimmering synthesisers and the last act of a dazzling musical nobody asked for. The record is like some thunderous neon trainwreck, a fireball in all colours of the rainbow. You don’t know whether to be awed or baffled or both. I like it.
That mess of a first paragraph is as close as I can get to capturing the essence of The Real Thing. It is an audaciously incoherent record. All manner of sounds are thrown into the mix and, by hook or by crook, it pulls it off. “Epic” swings between hip hop and metal and has a slap bass with so much twang that it may as well be a guitar. But it works. The chorus is anthemic and the groove is rock solid. It would be silly not to have several solos.
Mike Patton serves as master of ceremonies with appropriate pizzazz. He’s an adaptable guy, and in a lot of ways he sets the tone of expecting the unexpected. Case in point, the closer “Edge of the World” waltzes in with the smoothest basement bar piano flow you’ve ever heard. Nothing — nothing — in the preceding 50 minutes gives you reason to expect it., but it works.
It doesn’t all work. Sometimes silliness wins out, though on balance I’d say that’s a worthwhile trade off. The Real Deal is so maniacally expressive that I can’t help but admire it. Were it a little shorter I’d probably give it full pass, but as things are I have to say I’ll be coming back for tracks rather than the full experience.7 10
Favourite tracks // Epic
Edge of the World
Falling to Pieces
The Real Thing has me perplexed. Equal parts bombastic and cringeworthy and catchy, I’m unsure where to begin. But the inclusion of rock-rap, death metal screams and washes of bluesy organ all on one tracklist might just give you a hint of the cacophony of sound that comes out of this record.
“Epic” still stands out as the single that has stood the test of time, though I think it has done so despite Mike Patton’s aggressively rapped verses, as the chorus hook is suitably satisfying, and the midway solo is lofty enough to lift the track. It still includes many of the sins that exemplify the album as a whole, however, with a full theatrical horn section blaring along behind the guitars, a dramatic piano outro and an abundance of vocal styles in between.
“Surprise! You’re Dead!” is too needy for it not to be mentioned. A driving metal instrumental, yet more ping-ponging vocal styles and some hallmark effects of the ’80s throughout make it a highlight of sorts. The whole album makes telltale signs of its age. Basslines across the tracklist are almost amusing in their prominence, “The Morning After” sounds, at times, as though the bass is beaten rather than picked, classic ’80s synth pads are plentiful, as is the reverb.
The close to The Real Thing is possibly the most interesting contrast, with the cover of “War Pigs” turning out pretty well and making for a highlight of mine here, only to be succeeded by “Edge of the World”, a piano ballad that sways from side to side until it spills over into a sax line. It makes for an odd close to an odd listening experience, which is fitting.
Given the tumultuous time I’ve had with music of this era, there’s something to be said for the fact that I’ve engaged with this more than simply being cold on it. It’s not necessarily been positive engagement the whole way, but I must admit it does make for a fun listen. I can’t see myself returning to much of it, but it’s hard not to give Faith No More some credit in creating a weird and wild album that experiments with rap and mental in the same breath.6 10
Favourite tracks // Epic
Surprise! You’re Dead!