My favourite Faith No More albums, Angel Dust and King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime, took time to grow on me. Big chunks of the albums would go over my head but there were always enough instantly accessible songs to keep me coming back for more. And with each listen their darker, more challenging material would start to work on me until I was completely won over. Continuing this tradition, their reunion album Sol Invictus has taken repeat listens to reveal itself too… but in a slightly different way. The news that the reunited Faith No More would be releasing their first new music since 1997’s Album of the Year was hugely exciting but the early singles Motherfucker and Superhero seemed disappointing. And on initial spins it seemed like Faith No More were playing it too safe. The material and delivery seemed lazy and half-baked. But, strangely, the album was more instantly satisfying in its darker, denser moments. Songs like Separation Anxiety, Matador and the fantastic Cone of Shame all reminders of the band at their very best and it was these tense and claustrophobic tracks that brought me back for repeat listens. And on those repeat listens songs like Sunny Side Up and Rise of the Fall began to exert a magnetic, hooky pull. Turns out that there’s a lot going on in the album’s short running time. I found hidden depths, enigmatic lyrics and moments of joy in songs I’d previously deemed throwaway. Even the singles started to grow on me, working better within the context of the album.
The things that struck me as weaknesses in early listens (the safe approach, restrained guitars, empty catchiness) are all objectively still there but now they just don’t seem to matter. Mike Patton’s remarkable vocals and Roddy Bottum’s keyboards prove to be the star turns here but mostly the band foregoes grandstanding in favour of serving the music’s expression and theatricality. Fans of the band’s more Caffeine-ated explosiveness might be disappointed but that was only ever one part of their style. This is still recognisably a Faith No More album, reminiscent of their past work but also a step forward and a new start. It’s a hugely rewarding listen and it’s also very much a grower. In other words, classic Faith No More. Welcome back.