In the early 1990s, Camden, England didn’t have what you would call a really hard rockin’ reputation. Sure, they had mellow popsters The Sundays and a few others, but when hard-core noise rockers Th’ Faith Healers came along people didn’t know quite what to make of them. Their leader was Roxanne Stephen, a foul-mouthed, wild-haired banshee of a front woman, backed by three grungy henchmen: Tom Cullinan, Joe Dilworth, and Ben Hopkins. They became a success on the local live circuit, spurring a following of angry teens dubbed The Faithful, who could be found at every gig, pelting the band with paper, dead flowers, half-cooked pasta, and Brussels sprouts.
Though they were supported on tour by now-famous acts PJ Harvey and Teenage Fanclub, Th’ Faith Healers broke up in 1994 without really achieving much fame. Many factors may have contributed to this, one being the tight leash kept on them by their label, Too Pure (the label prevented them from opening for Pavement on tour, according to interviews).
Now Ba Da Bing! has unearthed the band’s recordings with the late, great, DJ, John Peel. The Peel Sessions samples recordings from 1992, 1993, and 1994, giving listeners a comprehensive look at the band in their heyday. If only we could have seen them live.
Though Th’ Faith Healers fit best under the noise rock label (they were described as “baggy metal” by some back in the day), these recordings are surprisingly melodic and catchy, even poppy at times. The album may screech into action with the messy “Hippy Hole”, but the next three tracks, “This Time”, “Reptile Smile”, and especially “S.O.S.”, engage the listener with digging pop hooks. The sound is thoroughly 1992: Th’ Faith Healers will remind listeners of Dinosaur, Jr. and My Bloody Valentine, though instead of the guitar taking center stage, the vocals do.
Stephen is a charismatic vocalist, and she keeps up with the roaring instrumentals like the ferocious broad that she is. The lyrics are mostly nonsense (“Moona Inna Joona” has only three lines, all repeated), but it’s the intensity of the sound, not the words, that counts. This is better pulled off in a live context, but, even in album form, Th’ Faith Healers can get the blood flowing. “Oh La La” jerks along with fuck-off abandon, and “Bulkhead” is shrill and irritating, which is somehow appropriate and forgivable. After all, their biggest fans did like to throw Brussels sprouts.
The final sessions at the end of the album feature the last songs ever written by the band, but if Th’ Faith Healers knew this at the time, they didn’t show it. There isn’t a drop-off here, but instead the band stays solid and consistent throughout. The final track on the album is a curious cover of Harry Nillson’s standard “Without You”, which is a departure but a welcome and fitting one. It starts off maybe a bit too cute and clean, but ends up in just enough guitar madness to be not only acceptable, but a damn good ending.
Th’ Faith Healers may have their share of complaints about missed shots at success, but their legacy can and should be appreciated through their records, and even this record alone. Th’ Faith Healers The Peel Sessions is an interesting document of a young struggling band in their brief moments of glory. They embody dirty rock ‘n roll, and whether it’s 1992 or 2006, youth and noise always have a place.
// Notes from the Road
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