Fifteen years ago this week, Faithless reappeared with their fourth album No Roots. By this stage, they were already very well established, with several top ten hits under their belt, so this album rightfully went straight in at number one in the UK chart – but does it live up to expectations?
It opens with a short abstract version of title track No Roots before launching into the dull but worthy album version of lead single Mass Destruction. There are cases, sometimes, when you have to wonder why an artist didn’t just ditch a track and try again, and sadly this is one – it’s still a lyrically brilliant track, but without the backing of the single version, it’s just a bit of a waste of time. They did, at least, throw the single version on the end as an afterthought, but this particular version really is nothing special.
I Want More: Part 1 is next, with a smooth mix from the preceding track. It’s a good song, and this time the production fits well, but perhaps it’s the smooth mix that’s the problem. Faithless‘s appeal was always that they were an extremely inventive dance act. They weren’t particularly unusual or innovative, but they would pull catchy melodies and clever lyrics together beautifully. This all feels a bit of a cop out, honestly.
I Want More: Part 2 follows, with a vocal sample from Nina Simone, and with a Pink Floyd sample at the beginning and end. It’s a good track which just missed out on the top twenty when it was released as a single. It seems a better fit with the production than the preceding tracks, so perhaps this was where we were headed, after all.
It might be missing some of the individual hooks, but this is a good album. Love Lives on My Street is a good song, and again, seems less shoehorned into the instrumentation – you wonder whether maybe you’re just getting used to the album concept by now.
The mix continues, as does the album, with the forgettable Bluegrass and Sweep, before the final single, the monumental flop Miss U Less, See U More. This is a pretty strong, catchy single, so it’s somewhat surprising that its commercial success was so limited. Or maybe not – it does stand out a little, but you still have to wonder whether Faithless were dialling it in a little bit on this album.
That mixes into the full title track, which sees Maxi Jazz on fine form, telling us about his upbringing – probably not for the first time, but he’s always a great lyricist, so even if we have heard this before, there’s really no harm in that.
The broader, more epic landscapes are welcome on this album, although in a way they tend to be continuations of other tracks rather than standalone pieces of their own. Swingers is a fine example, although it gains a few murmured vocals after a couple of minutes. This is a trance-like album, and it would probably help to leave your expectations of Faithless at the door. The trouble is, your expectations are inevitably pretty high, and this album is definitely lacking something – the albums had been becoming more concise and concentrated for some time, but maybe this was a step too far? If you’ll pardon the pun…
So you would be hard pushed to notice when Swingers merges into Pastoral, or Pastoral into Everything Will Be Alright Tomorrow. The latter track spawned an entire broad, abstract mini-album of its own, which is every bit as forgettable as some of the tracks on here. This is a bit of a trend, unfortunately – What About Love is worthy, but just pales into insignificance, even alongside older Faithless album tracks. There would be two more albums before they finally called it a day as a group, but they just seemed low on ideas at this stage.
Right at the end comes the understated and pleasant In the End, a soft, brooding closer, which works well in the context of the rest of the album. So No Roots is a conflicted listen, really – it’s fairly consistent, and it does flow nicely, but it clearly isn’t anywhere near as good as its predecessors. Fortunately, the single version of Mass Destruction closes the release, showing what Faithless were capable of rather more effectively. It’s not a track that has aged particularly well, but somehow this version brings out the lyrics much better than the earlier one. It’s a shame they decided to demote it to what looks like a bonus track, though.
You can still find No Roots on wide release for a sensible price, unless you’re looking for it on vinyl, which is currently listed at nearly 600 GBP!