Faith No More’s “Angel Dust” is Gloriously Adolescent

I don’t mean that the album is transitional, I mean that the album is the perfect encapsulation of being a teenager, perhaps more specifically a white boy not living in a city.

I would love to think that my teen years were grunge, but that’s probably more the romanticized view than anything else. The reality is that no single record portrayed the overall creep factor of raging hormones than “Angel Dust.” No other album dipped into the inner and outer turmoil the same way, to the same degree. This wasn’t just “I’m lonely and sad and no one will ever love me.” This was “here are all the fucked up things going through my head.”

“Land of Sunshine” comes off as this horrible double edged sword of “congrats, grad!” and “you might be right, you might be insane.” They seem to be such disparate ideas, yet it’s exactly how any weird teenager feels. On one hand, you’re focused on a theoretical future where you might actually feel good about yourself. On the other hand, you regularly feel horrible and you’re pretty sure you shouldn’t, but you can’t help yourself.

Follow that up with “Caffeine” which, among other potent lines, includes: “Relax. It’s just a phase. You’ll grow out of it.” It’s like a fucked up user manual of reassurance. Yes, you are a freak, but it’s cool.

The beauty of “Midlife Crisis” is that it’s exactly the kind of song someone terrified of a theoretical midlife crisis would write. I can remember being a teenager and being terrified that I would end up like my parents who, at the time, were probably experiencing their midlife crisis. In some ways this was the greatest fear that a white kid in the suburbs could have: becoming another suburban parent.

And this leads beautifully into “RV.”

When I listened to this in high school, I thought it was fun, a cool song that was making fun of sad, white trash. Listening to it now, though, I realize how poignant it is, how complex the song is not just lyrically, but musically. What starts off as a caricature becomes a real person by the end, particularly with that last line. It some ways, this is a cautionary tale, a warning that listening to your parents isn’t necessarily a good idea.

While “Smaller and Smaller” instantly conjures images of bugs that will not die, the song itself is something of a rural anthem, a musical take on the plight of the farmer who is slowly being beaten down by the modern world. Again, this record isn’t about the city folk, it’s about those of us in the suburbs and the country.

“Everything’s Ruined” comes back to the idea of family being an investment and parents looking at their children as a way to increase the status of the family name, not to mention the the family fortune. Again, for a kid in the suburbs whose life has been mapped out, this was like heroin. Th song is telling us that if we don’t turn out the way our parents want, they will consider the whole ordeal to have been a waste.

Is “Malpractice” about how horrible it is to try to appeal to the masses? Maybe?

“Kindergarten” is clearly about a kid who is held back in kindergarten, but in this case it seems as if he will never get past kindergarten no matter how old he gets. This is stunted adolescence taken to the next level; this is perpetual childhood, but not in a good way. This is the story of a person who needs to grow up, who wants to grow up, but is unable to move forward. This could very easily be about a teenager, but setting it in a kindergarten makes it substantially more resonant.

Faith No More’s greatest accomplishment could be getting straight teenage boys across the country to sing “I swallow” at the top of their lungs. “Be Aggressive” might be about more than blowjobs, but it would take a better person than I to dig into it.

I played soccer in high school. I was pretty good at it, too. Every year my school had an awards banquet for the sports that played in the fall, which was usually dominated by football. But after the main banquet, the individual sports had their own awards ceremonies. I remember that my brother, who was the assistant coach at the time, told me in confidence that the MVP voting had been a tie between me and another guy, and that we’d likely have to vote again. But that never happened and the head coach gave it to the other guy, apparently because he felt like it. Had I just voted for myself, it would not have been an issue.

Anyway, on my way home that night I listened to “A Small Victory.” At the time, it was mostly for the vague references to sports and competition. Listening to it now, I see that it’s about someone who just cannot win, but at the same time questions why competition is something that drives us. My reading is that, in the end, the continual loser is the one who realizes that this competition is meaningless, but the winner won’t listen to reason.

Sounds about right.

As near as I can tell, “Crack Hitler” is about a drug lord. The lyrics paint a pretty good picture, from setting the song in Miami to the briefcase, the high speed chase, to evil lurking in every person’s heart. Calling the song “Crack Hitler” is certainly sensational, as crack was still destroying communities like the plague and, well, Hitler is Hitler. So if we’re looking for a crossroads of awful both near and far, this is a good one.

The brilliance of “Jizzlobber,” aside from the name, is that it encompasses the entire album.  Again, this is teen angst delivered with a different type of self-loathing that we got from other bands of this time. This is a dirty song with a dirty title and dirty lyrics and we all felt dirty all the damn time when we were teenagers. And this song was Faith No More looking over the 11 other songs on this album and saying “you are disgusting, but we get it.”

Closing the album with a instrumental piece called “Midnight Cowboy” is just about perfect. Aside from the fact that it’s the perfect come down after such an intense album, the reference to “Midnight Cowboy” hammers home a lot of what this album was about. The layered, heavy music over top of the kind of simple melody you would expect to find being performed at a quaint, old world restaurant summarizes the album nicely: we are following a pattern that has always existed and it really is more fucked up than ever.

“Angel Dust” is the perfect teen angst record for a specific demographic and it was more telling than I realized at the time. It’s not the way I wanted to feel or even how I thought I felt, but what I actually experienced every day. And it transforms me back into a teenager every time I hear it.