Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February 16: Faith No More, "Epic"

Artist: Faith No More
Song: "Epic"
Album: The Real Thing
Year: 1989

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Often times, within a moment in history, the popularity of a seemingly "strange" song makes very little sense when compared to the majority of what is going on in that current music scene. Whether it is due to an odd vocal or lyric, or perhaps a sound that is so different from everything else, the songs' success may in part be due to the fact that it is so unlike anything else. Yet in nearly every case such as this, in retrospect, these songs are simply a few years ahead of their time, and can then be seen as pioneering for trends that would follow. This is perhaps no more clear than in the case of "nü metal" pioneers, Faith No More, and their surprise 1990 hit, "Epic." As the second single from the bands' 1989 record, The Real Thing (the first being "From Out Of Nowhere"), the song would be the groups' biggest selling song in their history, and it remains one of the most iconic songs of the entire decade. Fusing together heavy metal, hip-hop, and funk, the group immediately drew comparisons to The Red Hot Chili Peppers, yet where the Peppers were more funk and punk based, Faith No More were far more heavy-metal based, yet "Epic" shows how wide a range of musical tastes had influenced the band. Simply put, "Epic" remains one of the oddest hit singles in history, yet it also remains one of the most immediately recognizable and identifiable songs of an entire generation.

Truth be told, while the song itself was an unlikely hit, the fact that The Real Thing represents the first effort from a new lineup of the band makes the songs' success even more of a surprise. Due to what the band called "erratic behavior," singer Chuck Mosley was fired before the sessions, and he was replaced with former Mr. Bungle frontman, Mike Patton. As the legend goes, within two weeks of Patton joining the band, the group had written all of the lyrics for The Real Thing, and his energy clearly pushed the band to a new level. The song is driven by the powerful combination of the sound of bassist Bill Gould and guitarist Jim Martin. It is in their playing that the funk and metal sounds are forced together, and their ability to make these styles into something exciting and new is unlike any other band in history. Martin's playing is absolutely stunning, and his solos on "Epic" remain some of the finest of the decade. Drummer Mike Bordin almost sounds as if he is trying to break his kit he is playing so hard, and it is his rhythm that allows for Patton's hip-hop styled vocals. Yet taking all of this heavy and loud sound into account, without question one of the most memorable aspects of the song is the piano, specifically the melodic ending of the song. The beautiful piece, which almost stands in total juxtaposition to the rest of the song, was made even more memorable by the legendary "flopping fish" from the heavily aired music video. Emerging in the era between "hair metal" and grunge, there was nothing even remotely like "Epic," and it paved the way for the entire "nü metal" revolution that besieged the latter part of the same decade.

While the music was unquestionably unlike anything else, similarly, the vocal work of Mike Patton set the standard for the style. Not only was Patton's style completely unique, but his voice remains one of the most instantly recognizable in history. With an uncanny ability to seamlessly switch between his rapping delivery and powerful singing, Patton quickly makes his case as being the most dynamic singer in the bands' history. His fantastic vocals continually push the song forward with an energy that can still whip listeners into a frenzy more than twenty years after the song first appeared. It is this combination of sound and style that makes the records created during Patton's time with the band like nothing else i music history, and sadly, this lineup would fall apart within a few years of the hit single. Lyrically, "Epic" is one of "those" songs that does not seem to make much sense, and yet the lyrics are still someone very memorable. Constantly referring to "it," in the lyrics, the group never even comes close to giving an understanding of what "it" actually is. Pushing this to the extreme, the chorus is nothing more than the group speaking "What is it? It's it!" While this has allowed endless speculation as to what the actual subject matter is, in many ways, it is unnecessary, as the lyics somehow strangely fit with the rest of the amazing sound.

One of the most difficult things in music is for a band to find their own unique sound, and finding success within this search is often even more challenging. While not wanting to simply be a copycat of the popular sound of the time, breaking through with a "new" sound or style is an even more risky venture. Mixing together powerful, Sabbath-influenced heavy metal with a clear appreciation for funk, and then somehow injecting a healthy dose of hip-hop style, there were few groups that could even conceive the brilliant sound that Faith No More presented to the world at the beginning of the 1990's. The addition of vocalist Mike Patton gave the group a new edge, and they forever cemented their names as rock legends with their first album together, The Real Thing, which was powered by the surprise hit single, "Epic." Taking full advantage of EmpTV, the video for "Epic" is nearly as absurdest as the lyrical content, and yet through it all, the success of the song proves that if you stick to what you believe is great music, regardless of whatever else is going on at the time, truly great music will always prevail. Pioneering a sound that would dominate the charts in the waning years of the decade, Faith No More breathed new life into the heavy metal genre, proving that it had survived the ugliness of the "hair metal" years, and the group became instantly legends behind their stunning 1990 masterpiece, the aptly titled, "Epic."

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