I have to say I had very high expectations for the Faint’s latest release. Some were rewarded, some dashed, and some were just plain wrong. With their previous album, Blank-Wave Arcade, the Faint came out with synthy indie-rock you could get down to (in any sense of the word) before electroclash and Gang of Four-inspired pop outfits hit the scene in the big way they have since. Wet from Birth sounds like an attempt to figure out what the Clash would sound like if they formed in the new millennium and were influenced by synth-pop. Of course, this was probably not the goal the band had in mind as they recorded their most recent album, but it’s hard to tell how seriously the Faint take themselves.
A surprising sense of humor shines through in the opening track, as Todd Baechle sings, “I was acting indifferent at the merch booth putting on makeup.” The singer is feeling pretty shy and insecure for the singer of a stylish band that put out two albums of synthy sex jams; surprisingly, he is referring to himself as a “desperate guy”. The opening track is indicative of the content to come—Baechle opens up more on this record than any of the band’s previous releases. Certain songs are self-mocking and self-glamorizing at the same time. Lines like “we met up at a party on a swamp on a yacht” hint at glamour, but by the next track, the singer is feeling defensive around the hipsters, saying, “I might be an introvert to you the shallow fashionista.” The Faint both love and hate the scene they find themselves in. “How Could I Forget” both skewers and embraces the hipster scene. “I Disappear” opens with the herky-jerky percussion, staccato bass line, and errant handclaps that are starting to sound very familiar these days.
The first two tracks focus on chance encounters with an object of desire. The music is not entirely technological and synthesized—here’s where the strings come in. Wet from Birth features strings, violin, trumpet, and a sampled chanteuse. The sound is warmer than the band’s previous two efforts, and the content is a far cry from the focus on sexuality of Blank-Wave Arcade, despite the presence of a song titled “Erection”. Rather than the mechanics of sex, Wet from Birth‘s first two songs describe thwarted romantic and sexual connections. The lyrics are less abstract than those on BWA or DM were—here the Faint goes into specifics about daily life as a band, touring, backstage meetings, and parties, alongside topical political songs. But whether you enjoy the lyrics or not isn’t all that important, as they are generally just complements to the other sounds on the tracks.
Sadly, the sense of humor hinted at on “Desperate Guys” isn’t apparent in other tracks, which could benefit from some levity. “Dropkick the Punks” apparently critiques pop culture’s co-opting of independent culture, but the lyrics are too self-important. Like “Birth”, the message-driven lyrics can be as heavy and leaden as the thumping beats. Another song with unwieldy lyrics, “Erection” may be sexual, but it is one of the least sexy tracks on the album. It deals in the inconsistencies of sexuality: “You know it’s not only love, dear / That can flip the switch up / You know it probably should be / Maybe God fucked it up.” The music is monotonous, and the lyrics do nothing to improve on it. At best, certain points in these songs may be appreciated, but not enjoyed.
The Faint’s latest showcases many styles—sometimes cold and futuristic like Blank-Wave Arcade, with the goth touches of Danse Macabre and occasional strings and organic touches to warm things up. Wet from Birth stands out in the new genre of dance-punk with its techno touches and warm flourishes. While uneven, the stronger tracks make this a worthwhile listen. For fans of Blank-Wave Arcade and Danse Macabre, this will not disappoint. Wet from Birth synthesizes (no pun intended) the sounds of these albums to produce yet another unique, highly danceable album that is so much more than a fashion statement.