Sunday, 27 March 2011

Faithless - To All New Arrivals (2006) Review

The release of the fifth Faithless album came during my final year as an undergraduate student, and the first time I heard the lead single, "Bombs", I was in a polishing and cutting workshop, and the stereo was a crappy old boom box.  I actually asked my lab partner what the song was before I heard Maxi Jazz and realised that it was my favourite band! His response to my realisation was: "This is Faithless? But.. it's a bit crap, isn't it?" I agreed with him, "Bombs" is not that good a song and by their standards a bit of a misfire. It was unusual for them to release a slower song as the first single, with previous albums heralded by the uptempo tracks, and I wondered why this was different.

Upon getting the whole album and loading onto my MP3 player, I settled down to listen to the whole thing.  I remember realising upon reaching the end that there were no "Faithlessy" house tracks! OK so it's up to an artist to choose what to do on their records but after four previous albums you expect some consistency. The contrast between dance tracks and slower movements is part of what makes the band interesting, and listening to this I was just waiting for the beats to kick in. The album's last track, "Emergency" is above a moderate tempo, but it's instrumental and devoid of the usual synth riffage one would expect, so it doesn't fill the void at all.

Going back to everything else, "Bombs" opens the album up decently, although the vocals by Harry Collier are a bit iffy - some better lyrics and this might have been a memorable song. "Spiders, Crocodiles and Kryptonite" is a pretty good track, with Maxi actually rapping well on this one. Using a Cure sample is ok,  but maintaining Robert Smith's vocals doesn't work, he sounds swamped by the music here. Also the manipulated voices sound stupid. Could be better, and should have been. "Music Matters", with vocals by Cass Fox, most famous for the singing on Rui da Silva's "Touch Me" back in 2001, is one of the highlights. This nice and easy song is well written, immaculately produced, and fits the vocals and rapping together properly. I know that there are club remixes of this, and those are worth checking out.

"Nate's Tune" is a very catchy riff, but doesn't last long, before fading into "I Hope". Now, there is a point to this song, but I would imagine your mileage may vary on whether this fits into the mood or, like me, you feel it just sounds extremely pretentious. I don't think they needed it here. The synth riff in the break before the last section is pretty good though, and should have continued into the subsequent beats. "Last this day" is Dido's contribution to this album. It is definitely her weakest Faithless track out of the many she contributed to, and without listening to it I can barely remember how the lyrics go, let alone the music. The music is too minimal and she sounds too uninvolved - I know she doesn't exactly belt out most of her songs, but she's practically falling asleep on this one! "To All New Arrivals" itself comes close to being what I had been waiting for, the transition to house, but doesn't really hit the spot. The lyrics are just boring, and again the singing is lacklustre. But "Hope and Glory" is an absolute masterpiece. This is the kind of rap track that we want to hear from Faithless - Maxi telling a story, lots of energy and great music. This is the best song on this album. "A Kind of Peace", sitting close to the end, is one I keep forgetting, but it's a good song nevertheless, with vocals by Cat Power. One of Faithless' slow but pretty songs, this really needs to be on a better album.  "The Man in You" is also good, another of one of their funky rap tunes, but is another song marred by annoying spoken word samples. Try and ignore those : concentrate on the welcome return of LSK's singing and Maxi's awesome rapping. Finally, "Emergency" ends the album, not a crap track, but still something of a dud compared to what you want to hear. Probably fitting into the Progressive House genre, it doesn't have the structure of most Faithless dance tracks and therefore there's not quite the same buildup and release of tension as something like "Insomnia" from Reverence. It almost sounds a bit like a tech demo at the beginning too, but give it a chance anyway for the nifty guitar riffs and organ pads.

This is far from being a bad album on the whole, but the experience is considerably diminished by some tracks that are so dull or pretentious that you just want them over. This album is better considered as the sum of its parts, with some of those parts being redundant, and this is unusual for a Faithless album which usually succeed as a whole. Therefore it sits right at the bottom of the six albums they made in my collection, and I didn't even replace it for three years after my CDs were nicked. Completionists need it, casual fans probably shouldn't bother, but do check out "Music Matters" and the last four tracks nevertheless. Faithless' next and last album, The Dance, is perhaps a response to the failings of this one, as it is a continuous set of tracks mixed very nicely, and with plenty of danceable moments. That makes a much more fitting swansong for this band, and will be the subject of my next Faithless review.

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