Faithless 1998 David Bennun
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[The Guardian, 1998]


HOW HAPPY is this album? Happy as a clam after it's been prised open and fried with garlic and parsley. Happy as a sandboy who's just learned that the sand's all gone and his services are being dispensed with. Happy as Larry when Larry's wife has left him for a man she met at the bingo. Happy as. . . you get the picture. Not a happy album. Dark, you could say, and you wouldn't be lying if you did. Do young people really listen to this stuff in clubs? No wonder they take so much ecstasy. They need cheering up after the Faithless record's been on.
 Granted, it's not quite as gloomy as the last Massive Attack opus, but then few things are. I make the comparison because Massive Attack occupy the nearest territory to Faithless on the musical map (available in The Musical Atlas from all good cartographers.) What Massive Attack are to hip hop, Faithless are to house. They sniff out new ideas like a pig questing for truffles. They take the basic sounds and make them into full blown songs. They make it all moody and complex and thoughtful. They lure you in with quality music and promptly depress the bejesus out of you. They are very, very good. For all the help that'll be when you get to the end of Sunday 8pm and feel a compelling urge to put The Samaritans on your speed dialler.
 The first voice you hear (it belongs to the excellent Maxi Jazz) runs softly and eloquently through a catalogue of misery and affliction entitled Bring My Family Back. The last voice you hear, Maxi Jazz again, delivers a blood-chilling rap called Killer's Lullaby, brimming with guilt, claustrophobia and abject horror. Edgar Allan Poe would understand, if he wasn't drunk, or dead (the last time anyone looked, he was both.) It's the closest pop music has come to true gothic baroque since Coolio's outlandish Gangsta's Paradise.
 In between, things don't sound one hell of a lot brighter. Aside from the delectably sleazy She's My Baby and the deadpan house hymn God Is A DJ, it's all a bit downbeat. Postcards makes refreshingly lucid work of that old second album chestnut, the touring song. Take The Long Way Home is not, mercifully, an attempt to cover and rehabilitate Supertramp. Instead it captures, down to the last gleaming bin liner, the sometimes magical and more often unholy seediness of Britain's late night city streets.
 In a curious way, Sunday 8pm is like a British equivalent of country music, maudlin, full of tragedy and heartbreak, ripe for wallowing in. Its predecessor, Reverence, was a fine record, but this one is little short of wonderful. If it's possible for an album to be ravishingly glum, then that's what this is.

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