On the list of things people either love or hate, including casual conversations about sex, bombastic parallels between electronica and art, and Nine Inch Nails’ 1999 release The Fragile, The Faint fit right in like a quote from Freud. The Faint’s latest release, Wet from Birth, seems to take the purer slate of The Fragile’s broad electronic brush strokes and corrupt it with intellectually low-brow pop sensibilities and prickly song titles such as “Erection.”
It’s necessary to know the history of The Faint to fully appreciate this latest effort. The band was founded in 1994 with indie-guitar sensibilities and Saddle Creek wonderkid Conor Oberst. Eventually, Oberst got busy with his own projects and the band realized their guitar style lacked excitement. After morphing with ’80s synthesizers to become indie-rock’s favorite dancing cyborg, the band has since completely revamped the way electronic music is viewed in all alternative scenes. The Faint’s first impressive mutation came in 1999 with the genre-bending Blank Wave Arcade, an album that unwittingly revealed the band’s vulnerability as sexual beings and ambition as artists.
After Danse Macabre, which was the next step to popularizing The Faint’s new image (yielding a tour with No Doubt), the band found itself in an old warehouse, contemplating ‘what’s next.’ The result is a more organic sound, utilizing the closer-to-human sound of cellos and even a penis bone from a raccoon, scratched on a wall, in conjunction with the usual dance-club synthesizers. Wet from Birth is a fairly cohesive collage that oversteps its sufficiency as a band’s bold next step.
“Desperate Guys” initiates a quasi-spoke word piece in the order of a previously non-actualized William Burroughs night-club philosophy. Instead of his usual epic tragedian lyrics, lead singer Todd Baechle seems to take a cue from Debbie Deb’s vocal phrasing in “Look out Weekend” while he sings “I knew you knew I liked you / But I figured desperate guys never had a chance.”
Most of this album remains solid while The Faint treads heavily on new territory. “Southern Belles in London Sing” is essentially a Spanish dance with a few dark-wave sensibilities, and is something one might hear on LSD at some Disney extravaganza.
“Paranoiattack” could easily stand as the album’s single. The band uses video screens with songs during live performances, and no other song uses this media convergence as poignantly as this one. As a video, talking heads speak noiselessly as footage of missiles, bombs and aircrafts do their thing. The song is a commentary on the media blitz concerning terrorism, yet it works on more levels than that of the polemic.
Three things work against this album, which are the two songs “Phone Call” and “Symptom Finger” and Wet from Birth’s cover art. The band is notoriously hip with music and visual distinction. The album cover just seems to rip off Nirvana or something lesser.
However, the album’s final track reminds the listener of what’s great about the Faint. “Birth” features a new sound that could open a new album. With the opening lyric “In the beginning there was semen,” the band punctuates Wet from Birth’s meaning, which furthers its fascination with the functions and pathologies of human sexuality.