Music videos as an art form have passed a golden age that didn’t actually arrive. If you consider the vast majority of modern videos, they’re now a combination of harsh imagery, nakedness and lead singers / rappers / performers playing to the camera like incorrigible six year olds. If one is asked which music videos deliver on the promise of “sound and vision combined”, you might begrudgingly say Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and then be hard pressed for a follow up. They tend to have a lot of nostalgia going for them, like old toy commercials from your youth (hey, I remember that one!), but not a lot of inherent merit. I still get a thrill out of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” video, but it ain’t Citizen Kane.
For fans of a specific band, it is primarily that nostalgia that drives the sales of audio or video compilations. There’s a built-in audience, and extending past that audience is a longshot. So it is three cheers to Rhino Records for having done this, and continuing to do this very thing, because I don’t see new audiences getting a lot out of this two disc, two-program compilation “We Care A Lot – The Videos” and “Live At Brixton Academy – You Fat B**tards!” except a really nice sounding, relatively inexpensive audio primer. I am a fan, and it was great to see lead singer Mike Patton cavorting with the group that gave him his biggest break (For those in the know, Patton’s in, like, a gazillion bands these days), but even I can see how limiting these presentations can be.
Let’s start from the beginning. Chuck Mosely, their original lead singer, was dropped by the band. Through their Bay Area channels, and through Warner Brothers honchos, a demo by a bizarre metal-ish, avant-ish, Zappa-ish group named Mr. Bungle crossed their transom. FNM tapped lead Patton and they proceeded to work on his first outing with them, arguably the most successful in their discography, “The Real Thing”. They shot to the top of the charts with the single, “Epic”, the granddaddy of the rap-metal movement and the first hit about pulling an all-nighter on one’s self since Cyndi Lauper’s “She-Bop”. The Brixton Academy show, captured on disc one, comes from the subsequent tour and was poised to confound. This didn’t look like your ordinary metal band. The lead guitarist had the big metal hair, but had a penchant for wearing two pairs of sunglasses at the same time. A couple of the band members looked absolutely ordinary, strictly non-metal. Patton seemed to morph from manic Fishbone-like theatrics, to frightening G.G. Allin intensity, to Tom Jones lounge-smarm. The music itself bounced around genres and seemed to indicate that “Epic” was only a flavor, not the band’s modus operandi. By and large, the show was a successful outing.
The presentation is as good as you would expect from the source material, meaning that it blows your former VHS copy out of the water, but it’s clearly a product of its time. There are occasions of haloing and of macroblocking, specifically when stage lights flash off reflective surfaces or into the lens. Dark areas do get a bit fuzzed up. All in all though, this is as good as it’s going to get, and it sounds great, primed to crank up to, oh say 5 or 6. Fine, we’ll take it to ten, but you’ll have to explain it to the neighbors.
So all was well in FNM-land. The video for “Epic” was lauded as the weirdest, wildest mind-F MTV had seen in a long time, the combination of rapped lyrics over metal chords took America’s youth by surprise, and the world waited for what they would do next. They shouldn’t have. I say that because the world didn’t really know what FNM was in the first place, so while we waited impatiently for “Epic Part Two” they were whipping together a tasty mess called “Angel Dust”. That album had, in no specific order, big hooks, mood pieces, trailer-park dirges and a John Barry cover and, yes, a couple of rapped tunes… but it was not the crotch-grabbing, ‘yo, boyee’ throwdown people counted on. It confused, confounded and in some cases, annoyed. The small faithful, myself included, though it was brilliant. The videos were not.
Decked out in Russian military uniforms, the video for “A Small Victory” had the band mugging for the cameras in front of a cheesy chroma-key screen (long before computer synchronized matting). It was goofy and rather hastily thrown together, in many ways a middle-digit to Music Video USA, and it said “We’re really on the CD. Go buy THAT.” The subsequent videos from “Angel Dust” had that same defiant anti-video edge to them. Perhaps that’s why the album didn’t sell as well. Who can say in hindsight.
Lesson learned, and with the departure of original guitarist Jim Martin, the videos from their later releases seem slicker, more posed to sell and less likely to agitate. Patton’s image was being quickly tailored as a smoothie, rock’s Johnny Depp. It’s not to say that the later videos aren’t interesting. “Stripsearch”, from their last album “Album Of The Year”, plays a game of “what you saw vs. what you think you saw”, “Last Cup Of Sorrow” features a nifty parody of the Hitchcock classic “Vertigo” (and the beautiful Jennifer Jason Leigh, ‘nuff said), but these are a far cry from the spiky, almost homemade quality of the earlier videos, and way more polished than the earliest videos with Chuck Mosely, so dated that they look like they were shot on Grandmom’s Super 8 camera (but is probably that ever-indie 16 mm).
The band was done, the members had moved on. A b-side, a cover of the Bee Gees tune “I Started A Joke”, landed on a best-of compilation and spawned a subversively plain, yet slightly disturbing, video apparently made without any of the band’s participation. The DVD closes with a live rendering of Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s In Love With You”, amazingly handled. Even non-fans have to admit, with their turns on Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, The Commodores’ “Easy” and with this, FNM always knew how to cover a tune and make it their own.
The videos portion of the set is lopsided in that the older, arguably ‘cheaper’ videos suffer more on DVD than the newer ones. Again, some of the stuff is shot on media that didn’t fathom digital resolution. Mostly spanning the earliest “We Care A Lot” material up to “Angel Dust”, darks can be spotty and muddy, lights can be haloed and slightly posterized, but the sound is quite good. The newer videos come across better but can be less interesting. The video portions are for the fans, but I’d actually suggest the set for newbies because the audio side really tackles the speakers. Besides, you get two shows for the price of a single greatest hits CD set. If you’re annoyed by the videos, turn off the TV and boost the amplifier.
Does this set redeem FNM in the eyes of the masses? Probably not. Even at their most accessible, they were always misunderstood. The things they were had always been overshadowed by the things they weren’t. Does this set redeem the artistic integrity of the music video? No, not really. In the end, they’re still commercials for product, some more blatantly so than others. But like old TV commercials that spring up on unmarked videotapes, played on rainy days without any interesting television to intrude, and if you’re a Faith No More fan you’ll probably care a lot too.