Faithless was a successful and much-acclaimed UK dance group active in the 1990s and 2000s. Fronted by Maxi Jazz, one of the smoothest rappers you're likely to hear, Faithless produced electronic music highlighted by intelligent lyrics which took on contemporary political and social issues, at times stirring up some controversy. In 2006 MTV refused to play the video for "Bombs," a single released by the band which was pointedly critical of US and UK military involvement in Iraq. A trilogy of animated videos Faithless released in support of their last album, The Dance, also generated some internet buzz with its erotic and psychedelic imagery.
During their 15 year career, Faithless frequently used noteworthy vocalists as a counterpoint to Maxi Jazz's rapping, among them Boy George, Cat Power, Dido and Robert Smith. The instrumentation in Faithless's music was created largely by Rollo Armstrong (Dido's older brother) along with a female DJ (a rare thing in the male-dominated world of the disk jockey) named Sister Bliss. Since they recorded all but their final album on Sony (or one of its affiliates), Freegal offers us a nearly complete collection of their music. Read on for a quick tour of highlights from the band's releases on our download service.
Taken from their 2006 release To All New Arrivals, "Bombs" is a fairly chilling account of wartime violence. In the opening verse the protagonist describes his joy in coming home to his children, his "only claim to glory." The second verse however, vividly recounts how a kind, loving person is transformed into a killer by the random violence of war:
"One bomb, the whole block gone
Can't find my children, and dust covers the sun
Everywhere is noise, panic and confusion
But to some another fun day in Babylon
I'm going to bury my wife and dig up my gun
My life is done, so now I'm going to kill someone..."
These are among the saddest lines I've ever heard. Slap 'em on top of a dance groove, and what you hear is simply unique: a dance-oriented protest song of deeply moving emotional and political power. Most unfortunately, Freegal only offers an edited version of the song for download. While the edit keeps the vocals intact, its gentle, mid-tempo electronic stroll never quite seems an appropriate backing to the lyrics. Benny Benassi, of "Satisfaction" fame (or infamy), did a remix of the song which is a fantastic slice of electro-dance music with a techno edge ... and its not too hard to find elsewhere on the net.
As should be clear by now, the lyrics are the starting point in considering this dance band's music. "Mass Destruction" is a tale told from the perspective of a soldier's young child who wonders when daddy might be coming home. Near the track's conclusion Maxi Jazz, with his voice processed through a vocoder to give it an inhuman quality, tells us:
"Whether Halliburton, Enron or anyone, greed is a weapon of mass destruction
We need to find courage, overcome, inaction is a weapon of mass destruction
Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction, inaction is a weapon of mass destruction
My story stops here, lets be clear this scenario is happening everywhere
And you ain't going to Nirvana or farvana, you're coming right back here to live out your karma
With even more drama than previously, seriously
Just how many centuries have we been waiting for someone else to make us free
And we refuse to see that people overseas suffer just like we
Bad leadership, and ego's unfettered and free, who feed on the people they're supposed to lead
I don't need good people to pray and wait for the Lord to make it all straight
There's only now, do it right,
'Cause I don't want your daddy leaving home tonight"
In these few lines, Maxi Jazz takes on war, corporate and political corruption, apathy and religion. With a brooding synthesizer line providing a menacing backdrop to Maxi Jazz's rap, "Mass Destruction" is another emotionally powerful protest song. Tom Middleton, a longtime English DJ and producer, fashioned an excellent remix of the tune which makes brooding a positively propulsive emotion. However, the original version, taken from 2004's No Roots, is a fun bit of ska-styled dance music (and somewhat easier understand as the rap has not been processed).
Lyrically, a fairly simple paean to the transformative power of music, this song features the wonderful vocals of Cassandra Fox, who made her breakthrough with a Portuguese DJ named Rui Da Silva on "Touch Me," a big dance hit in 2001. In between Fox's soaring homages to the impact of music on our lives, Maxi Jazz weaves a rap about the process of discovering music itself, recalling hiding under the blankets with a battery-powered radio listening to Jimi Hendrix until the power gave out (which is hilariously recreated in the mix by looping his vocal while steadily slowing it to a verbal crawl). Pete Heller, a DJ who's been knocking around discos like Fire Island since the 1980s, crafted an excellent remix that backs Fox's voice with overlapping string and synth lines which build upon a brisk funk groove, making music that grows in beauty and intensity as the track progresses (Heller's mix is the third track on Freegal's digital single, clocking in at 8:22).
From the album Sunday 8pm, Faithless's collaboration with Boy George was the first song of theirs I heard, and it remains one of my favorites. Originally a quiet, downtempo number, "Why Go" has been remixed by several DJs and producers, and re-recorded by the band with a new vocal sung by Estelle. However, for my time, the best version remains a remix by Faithless themselves which retains the Boy George vocal while jumping the groove up to a house/trance tempo. Both versions of the Boy George vocal appear on an expanded version of Sunday 8pm which is available for download on Freegal (the down tempo original is the fifth track on the digital album, while the final track is the uptempo remix by Faithless).
If you like the taste of Faithless these tracks offer, Freegal offers all of the band's earlier albums as well as a compilation of singles released in 2005 entitled Forever Faithless. This collection is an excellent place to deepen one's faith in Faithless.
NOTE: Simply clicking on the Faithless song and album titles discussed above should link you straight to the appropriate download page on Freegal.