Faithless – Outrospective

Faithless never really did anything wrong. Maybe it’s just me that’s forgotten about them, or maybe history is somehow clouding my judgement, but to my surprise I find myself approaching this review with a bit of trepidation.

Fifteen years ago this week, the dance superstars released their third album Outrospective. After the slightly confused debut Reverence (1996) and the traditionally difficult second album Sunday 8pm (1998), this was definitely their best yet, so what reason could I possibly have for this trepidation?

It opens with Donny X, a pleasant instrumental electronic piece which ends with Maxi Jazz giving a few introductory words before the lovely Not Enuff Love begins. It’s a bit trippy, which seems somewhat unnecessary for such a sweet song, but maybe that’s just me.

If you were paying attention in the early summer of 2001, We Come 1 would have caught your attention, and so it is on the album, although for once it possibly suffers a little by appearing in its full eight minute glory. It’s great – those backwards kicks are enormous – but it feels as though it all happened a very long time ago now.

But I still feel as though I’m forcing myself to be critical, especially as the lovely Zoë Johnston turns up to deliver the vocal on the adorable Crazy English Summer, a song which has subconsciously haunted me for years since I left the UK. It feels as though it’s designed to remind me personally of the rained off barbecues and long walks in the countryside of the 1990s.

Muhammad Ali is the one track on here that I’ve never entirely understood – ultimately I think Maxi Jazz‘s relationship with the boxing legend is different to mine, and the disco backing doesn’t quite work for me.

Machines R Us is next (technically, that’s a backwards R, but I can’t actually be bothered finding the keystroke for that right now), continuing the disco theme slightly. It’s an instrumental, which is pleasant, and carries us through to Dido‘s inevitable appearance with the sublime single One Step Too Far. This in turn drifts gently into the introduction of one of the best dance tracks on here, the brilliant Tarantula, definitely one of the best songs about spiders in recent times if nothing else.

You do have to wonder what on earth Maxi Jazz is on about sometimes though – Giving Myself Away is nice, but has somewhat inscrutable lyrics. The instrumental Code is really sweet too, and carries us through to two more appearances by Zoë Johnston, firstly on the anthemic and understated Evergreen. This is so good that it had me wondering if Johnston had ever released a solo album. As it happens, she has, so I may be checking that out soon. Anyway…

I had my doubts, I confess, but by the end of Outrospective I’m finding I still love it every bit as much as I did fifteen years ago. Some parts have dated, definitely. But the elements that made it great are still very much there. This is definitely Faithless‘s finest hour.

If you can still find a copy of the double CD version of Outrospective/Reperspective, that’s the one to go for.

Chart for stowaways – 14 May 2016

Here are the top singles this week:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (II)
  4. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre & Rone – The Heart of Noise
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Twenty-Something
  7. Pet Shop Boys – Sad Robot World
  8. Electribe 101 – Talking with Myself
  9. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfør – Running to the Sea
  10. Amorphous Androgynous – The Mello Hippo Disco Show

Peel Sessions – Ladytron, 5 December 2001

I have to say, I love the fact that Ladytron recorded a John Peel session – but then, if you were around in 2001 and didn’t there was probably something wrong with you.

This was the era of their naïve but lovely debut album 604, and most of the tracks appear there. Opening the set is the noisy, and frankly not that great, Zmeyka. On the album it’s just a bit too experimental to be beautiful, but in its Peel Session form, frankly it’s just noise.

Next comes Holiday 601, later commercially released on the second album Light and Magic as NuHorizons. Since they already had an album full of great electronic music to draw from, you do have to wonder slightly why they were messing around making daft noises with pieces like this, but that’s obviously their prerogative – getting studio time to record some experimental pieces and getting them on the radio is no mean feat.

Another Breakfast with You is the full vocal piece that we had all been waiting for, and honestly it’s rather good. As always, it’s a lot more raw and unpolished than the album version, but it sounds great, particularly with its new ending. More please.

They oblige with the last track, the brilliant Discotraxx, complete with a healthy helping of portamento, and sounding truly fantastic. If Zmeyka made you question yourself somewhat, this is the reminder that Ladytron really are fantastic. Mira Aroyo‘s (I’m guessing) Bulgarian vocals come across particularly well here too.

This session is not commercially available.

Yello – Baby

For some reason I haven’t reviewed a lot of Yello round here, and that’s definitely a shame. They’re daft, but they’re always fun, and they really seem to have a good idea of how to make pop.

Their seventh album Baby (1991), released 25 years ago this week, after a brief and odd deviation with Homage to the Mountain, really gets going properly with the extremely silly Rubberbandman, which came with a yellow rubber gimp face mask on one of the versions of the single.

After the opulence and actual hit singles of the preceding album Flag (1988), Baby takes them back a little further from their electronic influences, towards jazz and honestly I’ve no idea what else, and so Rubberbandman has a totally daft vocal which reminds me a lot of the musical interludes from the TV shows Shooting StarsJungle Bill is a bit less daft, and a bit more reminiscent of the preceding album.

Dream Club is one of Yello‘s more filmic pieces, taking us to New York in a long-gone decade, and then throwing a bit of groaning at us. Who’s Gone? is pleasant, if a little unremarkable. Then Side 2 opens with Capri Calling, co-written and performed with Billy Mackenzie, which is glorious.

My favourite track on here is the sublime Drive/Driven, which superficially is just a list of word-plays, but musically it’s so beautifully charged that I’m not sure it’s really open to any criticism. When Yello get things right, they get them very right indeed, and the French-style middle section is sublime.

On the Run is a slightly daft freestyle piece, which carries us forwards on what seems to be either a very short or a particularly fast-moving album. Blender is a bit daft too, and somewhat forgettable, which gives us a spare moment to speculate on what on earth is going on on the album cover, which seems to find the moustachioed duo hiding unconvincingly behind a curtain. It’s far from the worst sleeve ever seen, but it’s a little odd to say the least.

All the odder, in fact, when you consider the follow-up album, 1994’s Zebra, which sees the duo hidden in black and white among a zebra stripe – perhaps an obvious move, but a lovely sleeve to accompany a much more convincing album.

Baby closes with a longer track, Sweet Thunder, which is a pleasant instrumental to finish with, and the album is over already. It’s hard to be critical, because this album does have some great moments, and it has all the classic Yello ingredients. It’s just not quite them at their best.

You can still find Baby here. There’s no special edition.