The Mike Patton Corner: Faith No More’s King for a Day…Fool for a Lifetime
It feels wrong to start a review for such a creative and unique band with a tired cliche, but there’s no other way to put it: In 1995, Faith No More were at a crossroads.
Guitarist Jim Martin was fired via fax due to his unwillingness to move on with the band into a more creative direction, something which had long made him the object of Mike Patton’s ire. Keyboardist Roddy Bottum was reeling from the death of his father, as well as of Kurt Cobain, with whom he’d spent a lot of time during the last few months of his life (Courtney Love was his good friend due to her almost year-long stint in the 80’s as Faith No More’s singer). The band spent much of the writing and recording sessions for their new record without Bottum and four months looking for a new guitarist. If all that weren’t enough, they were also involved in a bad car accident while Patton was driving, which probably inspired some lyrical topics like injury, aging, and death. Morale was low, but ideas were many, resulting in one of Faith No More’s most disjointed, adventurous, and accessible albums, King for a Day…Fool for a Lifetime.
Stylistically, this album is very diverse, some might say inconstant, but the genre experiments are generally limited to one per song, as opposed to Mr. Bungle’s frequent mid-song style shifts. Speaking of Mr. Bungle, the man they got to replace Jim Martin was none other than Bungle’s own guitarist Trey Spruance, who came with less than the highest recommendation from Mike Patton. According to a popular Faith No More FAQ, Patton was quoted (or paraphrased) by drummer Mike “Puff” Bordin as saying, “He’s a great guitarist, he’ll do the job, but he’s not dependable and he’ll fuck us up ultimately due to his lack of any sense of responsibility.” Because of the band’s hectic schedule, Spruance ended up not touring with them or continuing as their guitarist moving forward. Despite all this, he was a decidedly great choice for this album in particular given his chameleonic nature, and his performances feel perfectly in place no matter what genre the band are attempting. The production on this album is also excellent, every instrument is well balanced and can be clearly heard, and the placement of Patton’s voice is always perfect. On this album, Faith No More dabble in festival funk rock, intense heavy metal, power pop, and even gentle and passionate balladry, displaying impressive foresight and incorporating sounds and ideas that would later become synonymous with big name acts like Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age.
The album starts with a bang on Get Out, opening with wonky guitars and a steady, energetic drumbeat. Patton screams “GET OUT RIGHT NOWWW!” and the song explodes into a throttling, headbanging riff. My interpretation of the lyrics is that they discuss the fear of becoming old and boring, with Patton lamenting:
“What if there’s no more fun to have?/
And all I’ve got is what I have?/
What if I have forgotten how?/
Cut my losses and get out now”
While The Real Thing’s opener set the tone of fun, carefree hard rock, and Angel Dust’s opener displayed a much darker and more sarcastic mood for the album, KFAD’s opener makes it perfectly clear that the band were struggling emotionally while working on this record. The song is short, but powerful. Patton roars like Dave Grohl with his dick caught in a car door, and all the sneering, nasally qualities of his singing have been replaced by a powerful, resonant maturity. He finally accepts his fate during the crushing bridge, screaming:
“I don’t speak that language anymore!/
My blood is not that color anymore!/
My blood don’t shine the same way anymore!/
I can not deny it anymore!”
On this album, Patton continues to grow as a vocalist by leaps and bounds; his shouted and screamed vocals sound impeccable, and the smooth crooning he displayed on the band’s cover of Easy shows up many times. The band rages through the last chorus before halting abruptly. I really can’t get enough of the wallop this song packs, it definitely could only have been the opener and it sucks you into the album right away.
The next song and second single is Ricochet, which famously had the working title of “Nirvana” due to it coincidentally being written the day of Kurt Cobain’s tragic death. Like many a Nirvana hit, it’s a witty dose of heavy hard rock with huge crossover potential. Patton comes in with some smooth vocal harmonies on the verse, and on the pre-chorus he gets more raucous as things ramp up. One thing about this song I’ve never been totally in love with is the chorus; it’s not that it’s particularly bad, it’s just a bit of an eye-rolling joke that you might see on a 6th grader’s t-shirt:
“It’s always funny until someone gets hurt/
And then it’s just hilarious!”
Even though it’s not my favorite, when you read into the rest of the lyrics, you see how the hook ties into the song’s main topic: laughing at the pain of someone you hate for having an easier life than yours, wishing upon them a taste of life’s unfairness. Patton sings:
“Running twice as fast to stay in the same place/
Don’t catch my breath until the end of the day/
And I’d rather be shot in the face/
Than hear what you’re going to say
One day the wind will come up/
And you’ll come up empty again/
And who’ll be laughing then?“
This song is pretty clever, catchy, and an obvious choice for a single, but I just don’t think it’s one of the stronger songs in the album’s excellent first half. Still, lesser bands would make a Jennifer’s Body-style satanic sacrifice to write something with this much personality.
The jazz-inspired third track, Evidence, served as the album’s final single, and must have been pretty alienating to the more meatheaded metal fans in the band’s audience. Evidence is a sly, subtle piece of jazz rock with an excellent groove and a litany of catchy hooks, and lyrically the narrator is pleading with someone he cheated on, with Patton crooning:
“I didn’t feel a thing/
It didn’t mean a thing/
Look in the eye, testify/
Didn’t feel a thing”
Patton sells the sleaze like snake oil as hits of funk guitar add yet more catchy and memorable melodies. The chorus also features another great hook in the form of some awesome spy movie orchestral embellishments, and there’s some post-chorus guitar riffs so gorgeous you’d never guess it was performed by the same guy who played on Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny. It’s fun as hell in a way no Faith No More song before it had been, save maybe for Edge of the World, and Patton has even been known to sing the lyrics in Spanish and Portuguese when performing in Latin and South American countries.
Next is the dynamic and pummeling track, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. A reference to the 1890 James McNeill Whistler book of the same name (which itself is a reference to Sun Tzu), the lyrics are hilarious and somewhat cryptic. I’ve read an interpretation that they satirically conflate the calculated nature of warfare with that of social interaction, but they’re a little vague for me to confirm that with certainty, and Patton is known for his belief that people read too much into lyrics anyway. What I can say about this song is that it contains one of the album’s most hilariously theatrical vocal performances, especially during this incredible passage:
“I deserve a reward!/
’Cause I’m the best fuck that you ever had!/
And if I tighten up my hole/
You may never see the light again!”
Listening to this verse, it should come as no shock that Faith No More and Mr. Bungle were a huge influence on System of a Down, whose debut single Sugar as well as several other tracks from their first album have heavy, undeniable Mike Patton vibes that remind me strongly of this song. Patton sings low and seductively on the verses, and his menacing growls on the pre-chorus give way to one of the album’s most impressively soaring belts on the hook. As with all the harder rocking tracks, the bass sounds fat and round and rumbles like an empty belly, and the song has a fantastic coda that features Patton repeatedly screaming the “I’ve never felt this much alive!” refrain with increasing intensity.
Next is the supremely funky Star A.D., the only track on the album to feature a bitchin’ horn section, which mimics Patton’s delivery as he sings the title. I’ve referred to it as “festival funk” ever since one of my coworkers heard me listening to it and called me a “walking soul patch.” The groovy hits of guitar and excellent soloing are extremely tasteful, as are the subtle hints of organ, but the bass is the secret weapon of this track, especially in the last part of the song when everything but bass and drums drops out and Patton sings the chorus over a repeated triad bass chord. Patton has stated that the song is about a phenomenon, which most likely takes the form of a human being judging by the spoken word section:
“Dying is dry/
Like a fact of history/
And when you die/
You’ll become something worse than dead/
At the song’s most intense moments during the hook, Patton is going hard as fuck, hollering like a hardcore James Brown. There’s even a small sax solo, something previously restricted to Mr. Bungle recordings, and it’s honestly kinda weird to me that this wasn’t a single. It’s bold, hooky, and a very successful experiment for the band as far as I’m concerned.
Things get dark on the album’s heaviest track, Cuckoo For Caca, which features some of Patton’s most intense vocals on any Faith No More song, and the opening chord booms like an elevator after a free fall against Bordin’s tumbling drum groove. Oddly enough, Patton’s speedier lyrical passages are about the closest thing this album offers to the hip-hop influences of their past releases, but mostly he can be heard screaming his brains out over the meaty metal riffs and descending keyboards. Patton sounds equal parts frightened and furious as he stretches his vocal chords to their limit, especially on my favorite part of the song when he cries:
“Good stuff gets you/
BEIN’ AND WHEELIN’ AND DEALIN’ AND SQUEEEEEALIN’”
This is definitely one of my favorite Faith No More songs; it has all the darkness of Angel Dust, but with the goofy spirit of The Real Thing. As the title suggests, the lyrics are very shit-obsessed, but more in a “societal critique” way and less of a gleefully puerile, Mozarty kind of way. We are consumers in a capitalist world, eating shit “under a pair of knowing eyes” so that one day perhaps we can “retire with a turd on our lips,” ultimately becoming “something we don’t want to be,” and as Patton shrieks on the hook, “you can’t kill it,” because “shit lives forever.” As our world slides further into imperialism and late-capitalist decay, this song’s themes only increase in relevance.
Following that madness is the most low key track on the album, Caralho Voador, which is Portuguese for “flying dick,” an image which became popular bathroom graffiti in Brazil. With its bossanova beat and minimalist instrumentation, this song seems like the most blatant attempt at the band stepping out of their comfort zone. I’ll admit that this is not one of my favorite tracks, it doesn’t evolve much or build to anything like many other songs do, but at least it does have some funny lyrics, even if the funniest ones are in Portuguese. The song is written from the perspective of a cranky, paranoid old man who drives around picking his nose, and perhaps the accident the band was involved in served as inspiration for this character and for the chorus:
“My lips are moving but there’s no sound/
Someday somebody’s gonna get run down”
Putting the most mellow song right after the loudest one seems like an intentional choice, but ultimately not the most successful one; to me this song is the least hooky on the album and mostly just a cooldown moment, even if it is a unique track in Faith No More’s catalog.
Things pick up right away with Ugly In The Morning, a song about being hungover which opens with another shirtworthy joke:
“You did one thing wrong/
You woke up”
While this is not a song you might want to listen to while actually hungover, Patton’s anguished screams do convey the unique shame and agony of the headaches and nausea that come with having too much to drink, especially when he wails, “I DID IT TO MYSELF AGAIN!” The pre-chorus is an excellent warmup to the off-kilter rhythm and weird, ascending guitar riff during the hook, and the song ramps up to an ending so chaotic it begins to resemble that of many a track on Mr. Bungle’s debut. Patton yells, “DON’T LOOK AT ME, I’M UGLY IN THE MORNING” with ever-so-gradually increasing intensity, culminating in him sputtering and babbling and generally going fucking nuts by the end. It’s a wonderfully crafted track, bursting with personality and memorable performances, and it boasts one of Faith No More’s most interesting and unique hooks.
Next up is the lead single, the power pop masterpiece Digging The Grave, which is not only one of the album’s most radio-friendly songs, it’s also the most explicit lyrical exploration of death. In one of my favorite verses in any Faith No More song, Patton discusses the difficulty one can have when resisting suicidal ideation:
“I know you have a reason why/
That knot is better left untied/
I just went and undid mine/
It takes some time/
And the shadow’s so big/
It takes the sun out of the day/
And the feeling goes away/
When you close the door”
Patton’s belt of “Comfortable!” on the hook is another soaring and powerful performance, and his screams at the end of the bridge are some of his most grizzly. The chorus has some subtle acoustic guitars that add a lot to the song’s underlying beauty, and the electric guitar riffs propel the track with the kind of grace everyone aspires to die with. To quote the classic film Bride of Chucky, “Dying is such a bitch,” and you really feel it during the outro with Patton’s repeated screams of, “OUT OF THIS WORLD, COVERED IN MUD!” This is another one of my favorite Faith No More songs, and if any of the singles deserved to chart in the US (which none of them did), it was this one.
Get your lighters out, because next is one of Faith No More’s best and most ballad-y ballads ever, the country-influenced Take This Bottle. The narrator of this song is an alcoholic who fucked up his relationship and has given up on changing his ways, and he prays that one day his family can be whole again when they die and go to heaven. This song really takes its time unfolding, with Patton singing very low at the start and gradually reaching into his upper register as it draws to its climax. The piano riffs on the chorus are absolutely beautiful, and the background vocals towards the end straddle the line between heartfelt and intentionally cheesy. In some of his most depressing lyrics, Patton’s narrator resigns himself to his fate:
“I can hope we’ll be together/
With a better roof over our heads/
I can hope the stormy weather/
It passes on, it passes on/
But I hope too long/
Hope for me to change/
And that hope is gone/
So listen to what I say
Take this bottle/
Take this bottle/
And just walk away, the both of you/
And let me feel the pain I have done to you”
Backed by gentle synth strings, the song’s gorgeous outro fades away wistfully. This track has heart, beautiful melodies, and wonderful instrumental embellishments from the entire band, making it one of the best moments of this album’s softer side.
When I reviewed The Real Thing, I wasn’t all that impressed with the title track; I didn’t really think it played to the band’s strengths or justified its length with a good structure. I feel just the opposite about King For A Day, the album’s epic centerpiece. Billy Gould’s amazing bass line is the driving force for the verses, with Patton’s vocals barely above a whisper on top of the acoustic guitars and spare piano licks. The steady rhythm and vocal fry of the singing once again makes me think of a Ween song, this time the track Molly off their second album The Pod, but unlike that song, the chorus bursts into loud belting and crunchy guitars before suddenly transitioning back to the subdued verse. Lyrically, the song talks about doing drugs at an extravagant party, and Patton really amps things up on the bridge, yelling:
“Look, everything’s spinning/
We’re on the ground!”
Clearly this song is not about a good trip. Things go seriously wrong for our narrator as Patton chants in the outro like a desperate mantra:
“Don’t let me die with that silly look in my eyes”
For everything Roddy Bottum was going through during this time, he really pulled through with one of his best performances on this song, and while the tracks from which he’s absent show the band’s admirable ability to work within their means, the songs where Bottum is featured prominently showcase why he was always one of the most important members.
Next is What A Day, which I’m not quite sure how to interpret lyrically, but it almost reads like someone assessing the aftermath of a bloodthirsty rampage. The chorus is catchy, and the song certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome, but I don’t think it has that unique quality that most of the tracks have to make it stand out. In fact, Patton’s repeated screams of “what a day” in the outro almost feel a bit redundant after having done the same thing in a more satisfying way on previous tracks. It’s not a bad song, it’s actually pretty badass, it just kind of breezes by without leaving as much of an impact as a song like Ugly In The Morning, and the lyrics being somewhat inscrutable wouldn’t be a problem if they were a bit more interesting and memorable. Given what the band were going through, it’s amazing that they were able to put out a record at all, but tracks like this make me wonder if it really needed to be almost an hour in length.
The second to last song is The Last To Know, which opens suddenly with Patton belting over some glorious metal chords. One of the slower songs, the lyrics seem to be about getting dumped, being the poor sucker in the relationship who’s “the first to go and the last to know.” The guitar really shines on this track, with instrumental sections that drip with all the lethargic blues of Sabbath’s sludgier tracks, and an expressive solo to cap the song off. My biggest problem with this and What A Day is that they kind of sound like bonus tracks, and maybe I just like tight tracklists but I don’t know if this was the most impactful place to put this song. Maybe it would have worked better if it had been in place of Caralho Voador, or maybe just if What A Day had been left off the album entirely, but either way it’s a pretty good song that comes at kind of an awkward place in this slightly haphazardly arranged album.
Our moment of end-of-album levity comes in the form of Just A Man, a song with a mostly soft rock sound palate which has a slightly dub-influenced rhythm. The song is about the danger of being too ambitious, using the ancient story of Icarus to illustrate its timeless point. Patton croons gently on the verses, and is backed by a heavenly chorus as he sings his heart out on the hook. It’s a wonderfully catchy little piece of pop, and I think I’m definitely more fond of it than Edge of the World, especially during the ending with Patton’s impassioned yells giving some of the classic soul singers a run for their money. It’s not a standout track, but it’s one of Faith No More’s more gentle and hooky closers.
King for a Day…Fool for a Lifetime is not a perfect album, it’s more like a beautiful mess. Faith No More are one of the few bands who can truly throw everything at the wall and have most of it stick, and though this album was a commercial disappointment and a fan-infuriating change of pace, the band came through with a project they could be proud of. They said fuck the label, fuck the critics, and to a certain extent, fuck the fans. Faith No More would not be pigeonholed; they were bigger than Epic, bigger than Midlife Crisis, and bigger than the hijinks that informed a good bit of their reputation. On KFAD, they showed maturity, versatility, and a passion to expand their sound far beyond the influential style they pioneered.
I give Faith No More’s King for a Day…Fool for a Lifetime a royal 8/10
Best Songs: Evidence, Cuckoo For Caca, Digging The Grave