Review Summary: The Faint's retro career has melt-melt-melt-melted.
The Faint - Fasciinatiion
The Faint, after starting off as a run-of-the-mill Saddle Creek indie artist, transformed their sound into electronic dance punk with disco beats and dark, industrial atmospherics. Essentially, they're a huge influence on artists like Blaqk Audio that thrive on being "alternative" dance music, though The Faint have always had their own edge and vibe that set them apart. A key component of this aura is that the slinky sexiness of mixing dance sounds with industrial sounds was echoed in the lyrics. Blank Wave Arcade
is so laden with sexual content, and Danse Macabre
with violent imagery, that they feel like concept albums in their own strange ways. Even better is that like the music, the line between sexuality and violence was blurred on that larger, conceptual level. Every moment of sexiness on Blank Wave Arcade
is altered by inkdrops of violence, perversion, obsession, and prostitution, and every moment of violence on Danse Macabre
is handled with allure, excitement, and pleasure, suggesting that on a musical level, and a conceptual level, there is an interplay between the sexiness of dance music and the dark violence of punk and industrial that works
. A raved out synth line playing an eerie harmonic minor melody can be the synergy of those two worlds. Their follow-up album, Wet From Birth
failed because it lost that correlation. The album was all about birth, which itself is a strangely visceral part of the world of sex, but the music was not a realization of that. The best tracks were curiously unlike The Faint, as in the dotted violin refrain on "Desperate Guys," and the ones that seemed to invoke birth the best (placental synth melodies and nascent drum machine beats" not so much...) really didn't do the trick, and could be straight-up boring and gimmicky.
is The Faint's fourth LP to bear the mark of their distinctive sound, and its lyrical focus is much more broad and can't be boiled down to an abstract noun like "sex" or "birth." The album immediately involves all of the previous concepts with song titles like "Fish in a Womb," "Psycho," and "Get Seduced," as if all three of their previous albums were pointing to a larger, umbrella concept. The resulting focus is a multifarious gloss of modern and futuristic culture that is handled with a definite cynicism. Even the title "Fasciinatiion" reads as a purposeful misspelling of a word that normally captures both excitement and optimism, as well as fear and cynicism. So once again, The Faint are dealing with blurred divisions and reinterpretations of typical emotional and musical devices, but this time the concept is a lot more opaque and varied, and as a result, the music is also all over the place.
The actual sound of Fasciinatiion
is a sonic expansion from their previous releases. There are the typical vampiric synth lines against reverby vocals and industrial disco beats, but there is a lot more variety around that foundation. "Fish in a Womb" is a warm, fuzzy track, feeling almost like a kooky version of a Postal Service song, as if handled by a Jamie Stewart or a Richard D. James. "Machine in the Ghost" has the same poppiness in its chord progressions with the appropriate upbeat synth tones to go along. However, the lyrics belie the catchiness of the track. In the chorus, singer Todd Fink says in his robot chirp, "the crystal ball / the fear of god / the tarot cards / the dousing rod" giving a foreboding, fated feel to the electronics of the song, transforming them from a head-bopping electro pop track to a beguiling industrial march towards some kind of evil futuristic dystopia. On Fasciinatiion
, The Faint seem once again concerned with the way they can mangle their electronic tones with lyrics to change fundamentally alter the tone, message, and aesthetic of their music in a way that was lacking from Wet From Birth
However, that foundation that I glossed over at the beginning of the last paragraph has its own problems. While the new variety allows for a cool manifestation of the leitmotif at work on Fasciinatiion
, the old sounds are starting to sound campy and annoying. The vocals on "Fulcrum and Lever" are so compressed and phased out that they sound like a tasteless use of vocoder rather than vocals. The bass line is repetitious and noisome with its warbling electronic texture and there's a repeated, synth line that suffers from an awkward instance of chinoiserie. The repeated semitone accompaniment sounds like a sample from Punjabi MC's "Welcome to India." No joke. The trade off for continuing to include new ideas and messing with new lyrical concepts means that the trademark Faint songwriting tricks have been neglected, and as a result sound kitschy.
And that's the problem with this album. It has great ideas brewing, but there are tons of bells and whistles in the production that upstage the songwriting, which admittedly is weaker than usual for The Faint. There are no tracks that bump as much as "Call Call" and "Your Retro Career Has Melted" and at the end of the day, most people are listening to new wave electro punk for the fun songwriting rather than the aesthetic constructs of the music. These songs have a lot of detail and are compelling in theory, but the actual manifestation lies somewhere between intelligent pyschobabble and boring electro pop songwriting. We all want to like The Faint's sophisticated intent but the schtick wears thin.