Faithless – No Roots

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!

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Artist of the Week – Faithless

Rolling way back into the prehistory of this blog, we find a radio show called Music for the Masses, which ran in its second incarnation from late 2004 to 2005. Here’s another Artist of the Week from that show, and my apologies again for any problems with what’s written below.

The Faithless story goes back to 1995. After no success as a record company boss, Rollo, responsible for releasing the debut Felix track Don’t You Want Me, was starting to make his name as a producer and remixer. He joined up with then renowned DJ and remixer Sister Bliss, folk guitarist Jamie Catto, and Buddhist Maxi Jazz to become one of the most bizarre but best loved dance groups of the last decade.

The debut album Reverence was recorded in an astonishing 17 days back in 1995, providing a springboard for many music careers, not least that of Rollo‘s younger sister Dido, who provided vocals from the start.

After several false starts, Reverence finally became a hit at the start of 1997, spawning the massive hits Insomnia and Salva Mea. The second album, the less chaotic but also eclectic Sunday 8pm, was released in late 1998, and included only one substantial hit, the euphoric God is a DJ.

After a break of three years, the third album Outrospective followed in mid-2001. It gave the group a number of further minor hits, as well as the huge smash hits We Come 1 and One Step Too Far, both of which broke into the top ten. The third album also marked a turning point, as, after shedding members with each album, they worked once again with the now-infamous Dido, who has now appeared on every Faithless album to date.

Also worth mentioning at this point is Jamie Catto‘s project, the seminal 1 Giant Leap album. Probably only widely known for the hit My Culture, this is a fantastic album, and definitely something we should play a lot more often on the show.

The fourth Faithless album No Roots was released last year. It contained some of Maxi Jazz‘s most insightful lyrics to date, but I would argue that despite its tremendous success, being their first number one album, it is one of their less good albums. However, it included the wonderful Mass Destruction, and also spawned an instrumental spin-off album Everything Will Be Alright Tomorrow, even if the hits were a little thin on the ground this time around, I Want More scraping into the top thirty, and Miss U Less See U More, admittedly only a vinyl release, only making number 106.

However, we are now at  a turning point for the band. As always, the live juggernaut rolls on, crushing every venue they visit, and April will see the release of their Greatest Hits album, Faithless Forever (sic). Still no news on exactly what the track listing will be, but it’s probably safe to say that all the hits will be on there… and we’re going to play three of them tonight on the show.

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.

Music for the Masses 39 – 7 May 2005

For the final run of Music for the Masses, from April to May 2005, I had secured the coveted Saturday night slot, building people up to a stomping night out in Leeds. Or alternatively helping them to revise for their exams. Or potentially neither; it was rather difficult to tell. But looking through the playlist, I can see a slightly more uptempo seam running through the show, culminating with the Electromix at the end of the show.

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Show 39: Sat 7 May 2005, from 6:00pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: The Shamen.

  • Morcheeba – World Looking In
  • Erasure – Here I Go Impossible Again
  • 1 Giant Leap feat. Robbie Williams & Maxi Jazz – My Culture
  • Mylo – In My Arms (Sharam Jey Remix)
  • The Shamen – Comin’ On (Beatmasters Mix)
  • Sylver – Make It
  • Aurora – Ordinary World
  • BT – Orbitus Terrarium
  • Kraftwerk – Aérodynamik
  • The Shamen – MK2A
  • Depeche Mode – Freelove (Live) [The Live Bit]
  • Stereo MCs – Connected
  • Technique – Sun is Shining
  • Felix – Don’t You Want Me
  • Yello feat. Stina Nordenstam – To the Sea
  • New Order – Jetstream (Arthur Baker Remix)
  • The Shamen – Indica
  • Binar – The Truth Sets Us Free
  • Talk Talk – Talk Talk
  • Mirwais feat. Craig Wedren – Miss You [Electromix]
  • Elektric Music – Lifestyle (Radio-Style) [Electromix]
  • Front Line Assembly – Everything Must Perish [Electromix]
  • Fluke – Absurd
  • Bent – The Waters Deep

The Electromix feature from this show still exists, and will be included on a future Playlist for stowaways.