Lost Gems: Faith No More – King for a day, fool for a lifetime
From time to time, we like to talk about albums that time has forgotten about. Lost Gems is a column dedicated to albums that were overlooked in their time or simply don’t get that much press today, and we think it’s a damn shame. This time around, we invited Simon Roberts (Morricone Dancehall, The Farewell State, The Letter) to write about a sweet little topaz called King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime.
Here’s Simon Roberts‘ take:
Picture it: your name is Mike Patton, your band Faith No More has turned the rock world upside down with an amazingly diverse album called Angel Dust, you’ve toured the world – both on your own and with Guns N Roses – you’ve done the excesses of RnR lifestyle: you took drugs, your bassist dressed like a bee, you shat in a hair dryer and now you have to record the follow up. Oh yeah, and you’ve just sacked your guitarist for being a bigger dick than you. So, what do you do now?
Well, the first line on the album sets the mood within the band and across the whole set: “What if there’s no more fun to have and all I’ve got is what I had? What if I have forgotten how? Cut my losses and get out now”. The theme of self doubt and loathing runs throughout and a yearning for escape (from fame/record label pressures) is also rife. The template used by Patton on Mr Bungle pops up here and there too: one minute it’s straight-ahead muscle rock (‘Ricochet’, ‘Digging A Grave’), the next it’s a jazzy funky calypso thing (‘Evidence’, ‘Star AD’). In this respect, it’s an even more varied collection than Angel Dust but that album would flick between genres in the same song, rather than stick to one or the other.
This can easily be put down to the missing guitarist: Jim Martin. Love him or loathe him, he added a certain bite that the band never truly recovered but new axeman Trey Spruance does his own thing and pulls it off, you’d notice more if only the production was a bit less smooth. The other missing piece of the Angel Dust puzzle is Roddy Bottum‘s keyboard. Sure, it pops up fleetingly here and there but he switched to guitar for this one and, while it’s good to change, it misses the playful sounds he creates (they addressed this on the next album to great effect).
The lyrics are full of bile as usual but there’s always humour in there: “Don’t look so surprised, happy birthday…fucker, blow that candle out, we’re gonna kick you” (‘The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies’) and “You did the wrong thing, you woke up, It looked better before, more-more” (‘Ugly In The Morning’). Nothing quite amuses/repulses as much as ‘Cuckoo For Caca’, a blackly comic tale of dug obsession that proclaims “…everybody needs to lick the surface clean but it NEVER. TASTES. BETTER.” and “shit lives forever”. Scary themes but always with a little wink at the end: “…take it from our drummer ‘Puff’, being good it gets you stuff!”.
The album lurches from full-on mental to soft and playful from beginning to end and when it first came out in 1995 it was, predictably, compared unfavourably to Angel Dust. Having lived with it for over fifteen years (!!!), it holds up really well and due to it’s scattershot nature, bears many repeated listens (and this is from someone to whom Angel Dust is one the all time great albums). The follow up – Album Of The Year was probably better produced but lacked the sheer array of tunes on King for a day, fool for a lifetime and I love the deranged nature of tracks like ‘…Enemies’, ‘Cuckoo…’ and ‘Ugly In The Morning’ but I also get a kick out of the way Faith No More take a Latino ballad (‘Caralho Voador’) or a drive time rock song (the title track) and pervert it in their own way with a flash of metal shred guitar here, a whacked out lyric there. Keeps you on your toes and coming back for more time and again.
I’ve got a weird story with Faith No More: I saw ‘Epic’ one time and didn’t thought much of them. A few years later, I was recovering from surgery and was watching MTV (all together: “when it had videos!”) and in comes ‘Ashes to ashes’. No longer where they the band that sounded similar (to my untrained ears) like Red Hot Chili Peppers or Ugly Kid Joe, but a band playing an aggressive rock. The videos for ‘Last Cup of Sorrow’ and ‘Stripsearch’ (awesome) just galvanised my love of the band and bought Album of the year. That year, I got King for a day, fool for a lifetime as a Christmas gift (y’see? Parents sometimes DO know what their kids want).
I bought The Real Thing and Angel Dust 6 months later. Although I loved them for their strengths (‘Zombie Eaters’, ‘The Real Thing’, ‘Caffeine’, ‘Jizzlobber’), there was something in the two last albums of Faith No More that beckoned again and again. It probably boils down to the emotional connection you have with the album and these two played a good part in my life back then.
After so many years constantly listening to King for a day, fool for a lifetime , I’ve come to the realisation that this is one of the key albums of the 90s. I’ll elaborate: the 90s had metal going ballad-ey, grunge, post-rock, math rock, fusion, retro revivals (see Brian Setzer Orchestra, Squirrel Nut Zippers, etc) and, of course, romantic ballads. Faith No More cover all of these genres (and a few more) in this album, basically a band with multiple personality disorder and a vocalist that can seduce you (‘Evidence’), save your soul via gospel choir (‘Just a man’), break your heart (‘Take this bottle’) and let out one of the top three screams* of 90s music (‘Digging the grave’).
The album tanked. Mostly derided by critics (although a few illuminated ones gave it a good score), it faded away rapidly. But still, all the Faith No More superfans that I meet hold this album high above, almost always above The Real Thing, sometimes tied with either Angel Dust or Album of the year and in a few cases, as the best of the Patton era.
Make no mistake: as much as I love Mike Patton, everyone does a great job. Billy Gould delivers some basslines that hook you up (‘Evidence’!), Roddy Bottum might be absent a bit, but he still adds some chilling atmospheres (‘King for a day’), Mike Bordin drums a mean beat (‘Digging the grave’) and Trey Spruance and Dean Menta add a very classy touch to the proceedings, each one with their own approach. What about Mike Patton‘s showmanship? Well, it’s a voice covering all ranges and emotions : desperation (‘Get out’), nonchalant vagrancy (‘Caralho voador’) and the manic desperation of a mental breakdown (that meltdown in ‘Ugly in the morning’ -aaah!) Although I’d be lying if I said I have a favourite track (they seem to cover all possible emotions), there’s something about the unsettling atmosphere of the track ‘King for a day’. The callous delivery during the verses clashing just perfectly with the chorus (and eventual breakdown). It’s this juxtaposition that the band pulls so well what made such an impact on me. The ending, with Patton refraining “don’t let me die with that silly look in my eye” feels as both a plea and the final words of someone departing this mortal coil.
The genre changing might be a little off-putting, but let’s be honest: quite a few bands have achieved fame thanks to the versatility this gives them. So give this album a chance, let it sink in and, hey, if you buy it, you might get one with a sticker of the front cover. I did and now it decorates my guitar.
Right, enough rants. Check the video for ‘Evidence’ and enjoy the lil’ thumbs up motion when things get smoother.
*The other two: Dave Grohl’s maniacal scream in ‘Monkey Wrench’ and Meat Loaf’s angry shout in ‘Life is a lemon and I want my money back’.