Faith No More, long perplexing, back to claim its moment

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New York (AFP) - On the fringes of the MTV era, Faith No More started confounding audiences with hard-edged rock that brought in funk, hip-hop and even samba and polka.

"We don't even know what we're doing," bassist Billy Gould said with a laugh when asked about Faith No More's genre.

As Faith No More returns with its first studio album since 1997, the maturing band has discovered a shift -- the crowds now seem to get it.

"For us personally it's very different because people actually know and like our music now," said Gould, one of the group's founding members.

"Before, a lot of people liked our music and a lot of people weren't sure what they thought of our music.

"There was always -- I wouldn't say a confrontational aspect to our shows -- but definitely we were always feeling that we had to earn our way through it," he told AFP in an interview.

Gould said the band now has greater liberty to choose what it wants to play, and that the music tends to grow on audiences.

"It doesn't hit you in the face all the time," he said.

Faith No More has launched an extensive tour for "Sol Invictus" that includes an August 5 show at New York's Madison Square Garden -- the first time since the band's formation in 1981 that it has played the prestigious 18,200-capacity arena -- and a number of large venues in Latin America.

- Musical surprises -

Whatever the reaction of early audiences, the San Francisco-based band amassed years of acclaim from critics and fellow musicians -- notably Krist Novoselic of Nirvana, who has said that Faith No More paved the way for the grunge giants.

As 1980s bubble-gum pop faded in the United States, Faith No More became one of the defining acts of the emerging alternative scene, especially with its 1989 album "The Real Thing."

Faith No More enjoyed airtime for songs from the album such as "Falling to Pieces" and "Epic," which featured the memorable lyrics, "It's in your face but you can't grab it / What is it? / It's it."

The 1989 album also brought in singer Mike Patton who, at six octaves, has one of the greatest vocal ranges of any contemporary singer, even in opera.

"Sol Invictus," the band's latest album which came out in May, keeps the angry sneer of Faith No More's earlier work on songs such as "Superhero," "Motherfucker" and "Black Friday," the last an indictment of consumerism with the verse, "Into the age of scrutiny and the grandest frappe / Well, I ain't gonna pay."

As is common with Faith No More, the songs also go in new directions musically with a touch of blues in "Cone of Shame" and, in a first for the band, the album closes acoustically with "From the Dead."

"I always think that if you make a good record -- and this goes to all the records we've ever made -- there's always got to be something that surprises us, where we discover a bit of ourselves in it, too," Gould said.

- Praise, in retrospect, for major labels -

In alternative rock's heyday, Faith No More was signed to an imprint of Warner Music, one of the major labels. And, like many non-mainstream artists, the band found the corporate music world an awkward fit.

But in retrospect, Gould thinks differently and believes Faith No More benefited as a smaller act at a well-resourced company.

"Actually our music did get over to a lot of people. But if you were a Warner act and you sold half a million albums back then, it was considered a failure," he said.

"They didn't really see us as a priority at all. So for us internally, it was perceived like it wasn't working, but I think it was working," he said.

After years of financial turmoil at the major labels, Gould doubted that new bands emerging today could find a similar support structure.

Nonetheless, for "Sol Invictus," Faith No More decided to go independent.

He said the decision appeared natural. The band had resumed recording together quietly after reunion shows, and decided to handle all aspects of "Sol Invictus."

"We have a name people know about, so I'm sure somebody would have wanted to pick us up. But it just didn't seem like a lot of fun," he said.