Review Summary: Underrated? Yes. Up to par? Debatable.
Let's get something squared away off the bat-- Album of the Year
is easily the most maligned Faith No More release with Mike Patton as the vocalist. Critically, the album was under heavy fire from the start, with Pitchfork and Rolling Stone dumping less than stellar reviews (2.4/10 and 1.5/5, respectively), and commercially the album severely undersold, not moving half as many units as Angel Dust
(whose sales totaled less than half of The Real Thing
's), despite arguably being the more accessible record. Even the band cites the album as their least favorite, and their imminent breakup finally happened less than a year after its release with Patton's explanation of "we were starting to make bad music."
It's sad to say, but some of the knocks on Album of the Year
were more than justified. The first glaring issue is the guitar work-- Jim Martin, the axeman behind FNM's first four releases, had long since jumped ship, and Mr. Bungle fill-in Trey Spruance took his leave after lending his talents to King for a Day
. The job of replacing Spruance fell to Jon Hudson, whose performance on the album is adequate and nothing more. The frantic energy of the band's previous releases seems to be completely abandoned, and despite some tracks that play to Hudson's strengths, such as the electronica-tinged "Stripsearch," the album develops a bit of a dull backbone that plagues many of the uptempo cuts. The lack of a dynamic feel can't be pinned completely on Hudson however-- bassist Billy Gould is essentially absent on all songs, save "Last Cup of Sorrow," and keyboardist Roddy Bottom can't seem to conjure up the atmospheric feel he thrives on. In fact, the aforementioned two tracks are the only two with any real sense of atmosphere or dynamic, excluding the grungy plodding of "Home Sick Home" and closer "Pristina."
But alas, Mike Patton's vocals serve as a saving grace. From his soaring performance in "Ashes to Ashes" to the gentle crooning of "She Loves Me Not," Album of the Year
provides his best pure vocal performance as a member of Faith No More. You won't find any of the pure insanity he provided on the band's previous two releases, but his smooth, laid-back style fits the album perfectly and allows it to gain a dimension that most of the band's other work lacks. "Helpless" is a prime example of this-- musically, it's five-plus minutes of very little extraordinary going on, but the band feels tight, connected and smooth, perhaps more than they ever have before. Patton turns in another laudable vocal performance and delivers the hook of "I never felt better" with such earnestness that it's difficult not to get swept away by the song's soothing melodies. "She Loves Me Not" operates the same way, a quaint, barbershop quartet-esque piece which sees Patton flying in and out of falsetto with ease. "Pristina" and "Stripsearch" are also standouts, the former one of the more emotional songs FNM ever wrote.
That's not to say Album of the Year
only succeeds with the volume and tempo low-- lead single "Ashes to Ashes" works well enough with the catchiest chorus on the album, and it's all too easy to fall into the mesmerizing bass-heavy groove of "Last Cup of Sorrow." "Mouth to Mouth" is the most dynamic of the faster tracks and yields generally positive results.
Album of the Year
isn't a masterpiece, but it's far from the disaster it's made out to be. It's not a stretch to label it as the least impressive Faith No More release with Patton, but that doesn't make it poor by anyone's standards. Sure, it fails it match the other albums musically and it has more clunker tracks than one would like with a band of FNM's caliber, but the added dimension of a slow, ballad-esque side works impressively well and there are more than enough standout tracks to make Album of the Year
a worthy addition to the Faith No More catalog.