They’re a tough nut to crack, Faithless; a band who resolutely pursue their own vision, not giving one rat’s ass for current trends or conventions. To All New Arrivals, their fifth studio album, follows the stunning success of their greatest-hits collection, Forever Faithless, and is testament to their conundrum.
Opening track and lead-off single ‘Bombs’ is a fitting representative for the album as, while it’s darned difficult to find any serious fault with the track itself, for better or worse it’s seriously lacking in the blockbusting grandeur of previous singles such as ‘Insomnia’ and ‘We Come 1’. It heralds an album of understated social commentary, an album whose message is worthy to the point of over-earnestness.
‘Music Matters’, for example, is a wide-eyed statement of the greater value of music over money. The heart’s very much in the right place, of course, but such unrelenting lyrical focus on “those who stood up and were counted” and “those for whom music was a message” begins to get a little awkward and embarrassing. Similarly, without wishing to question the merits of highlighting the inequalities and injustices of the modern world, one can only make so many references to “enough food on the table” and children being killed by malaria before it all starts to resemble a Comic Relief campaign.
However, all of the above criticism is as much reason to praise Faithless as it is to condemn them. Releasing a single such as ‘Bombs’ and an album similarly devoid of Pete Tong-friendly 'bangers' (as I’m led to believe they’re known) represents a resolute V-sign in the face of those seeking nothing more than mindless accompaniment to chemical stimulation. And of course, Faithless are only too aware that unabashed social critique such as theirs flies in the face of any notion of cool, but it’s as though that’s as good a reason as any to lay it on thick. It’s a matter of priorities – Faithless are clearly unshakably aware of theirs, and it’s hugely admirable.
To All New Arrivals has a much greater breadth and variety than one might perhaps expect, which is helped no end by its wealth of guest vocalists. Naturally, the choice of collaborator has a great deal of bearing on the success of the track, and so it’s no surprise that, while the potentially heart-rending ‘Last This Day’ is spoilt totally by the astonishingly soul-sapping voice of Dido, by far the highlight of the record is ‘A Kind Of Peace’, fronted by the sublime Chan Marshall (Cat Power). Her rich yet delicate vocals are left untreated and are pushed way up in the mix, lending the track a considerable intimacy, and the minimal yet melodic backing steers Marshall through brilliantly.
Unfortunately, though, it’s the album’s only truly recommendable moment. It wouldn’t be fair to dismiss the remainder as mediocre, but the tracks’ constituent components, despite their water-tight delivery and crystal-clear vision, all too often fail add up to a truly memorable result. It’s damn hard to knock Faithless, but still, it’s pretty difficult to be truly passionate about them.
6Dan Cooper-Gavin's Score