Make yourself comfortable, and get ready for 230 minutes of Faithless mixtape action.
If I ever get the inkling, remind me never to exchange mix tapes with Faithless.
I mean, it's not that they do a bad job. It's that they're too good. You know how you and your buddies make mix tapes and design them with a sense of flow in mind? Well, Faithless' version of Renaissance Presents 3D, the second and latest in a series of 3D releases put out by Renaissance Recordings, is three CDs, each of them a mix supposedly detailing a different side of the band. This sounds straightforward enough, but Faithless, those wizards of impeccably clean production, have actually put their savvy to good use, creating three mixes that meld together, tracks transitioning into each other as if you were listening at a club. This doesn't seem like such a feat at first, what with much of Faithless' material being quite dance-oriented and the fact that one of the mixes here is a "Club" mix, meaning that it's specifically for dancing and therefore best executed as a megamix of sorts, but by the time you get to the third disc with Scritti Politti, Horace Andy, and Todd Rundgren somehow sharing enough common ground to be part of a mix like this, it's easy to get lost in the feats of transitioning so far as to almost ignore the mix's individual parts.
As such, I could never exchange mix tapes with Faithless -- it just wouldn't be a fair trade. Their mix would beat the living hell out of my mix, and I'd have to live with the guilt that comes with unfair exchange for the rest of my life. And who wants that? Not me, I'll tell you.
Regardless of all this, 3D is quite the nice package, particularly for the diehard Faithless fan. The first disc, helpfully titled "Studio", is a handy little b-sides and remixes compilation dressed as a megamix, a place where you get to see the many different sides of what they can do in the titular studio, not to mention a hint of what's to come as they betray some of their influences and bands they are fans of. Fans who didn't want to buy the Cruel Intentions soundtrack finally have a chance to get the slow, brooding "Addictive" on a Faithless release, while fans who hear 1 Giant Leap's collaboration with Faithless vocalist Maxi Jazz and Robbie Williams may become interested enough to hear more of the excellent 1 Giant Leap self-titled album. The b-sides are neat, too (the discombobulating "Woozy" being a particular highlight), but really, "Studio" is all about the remixes. There's a remix of Black Grape's "Get Higher" here that slyly winks at Faithless' past (a quiet Maxi Jazz stating "I can't get no sleep," a nudge at the group's breakthrough hit "Insomnia", shows up in the remix's second half), but the star of the show, as should perhaps be expected, is Donna Summer.
Maybe I shouldn't be that surprised that Faithless manage to take a great dance tune and turn it into... a great dance tune, but they do so in a way that takes Giorgio Moroder's original production and gives it a distinctly Faithless sound -- the chord punctuation on beat two of every bar is just such a Faithless thing to do, and they actually remove the beat entirely for the entrance of Summer's cascading "It's so good, it's so good" lines. It's fantastic, and its presence probably would have improved the "Club" portion of 3D quite a bit.
Unfortunately for that second disc, "Club" lacks anything actually recorded by Faithless save some additional keyboarding and mix engineering on a few tracks by Sister Bliss, who orchestrated the entire "Club" side of 3D. For the most part she seems to prefer "think-dance" tracks to booty-shakers, ones that betray musical artistry more than they do expert beat-making, though there's plenty of oontz to be found here. This is a mix that's strongest when it strays from the contemporary -- the one-two punch of Wonderland Avenue's '70s future-funk "White Horse" segueing into the '80s beep-synth melodies of the Shinichi Osawa Distortion Disco Edit of Christopher & Raphael Just's "Popper" is priceless, as is the pleasantly retro galloping bassline of Jody Wisternoff's "Cold Drink Hot Girl". On the more modern side, it's delightful to find a track from Coldcut's recent masterpiece Sound Mirrors on the disc, but the "Tiga Mix" of "Walking in My Shoes" regretfully saps it of all the emotion it once had, rendering it basically interchangeable with the rest of the vaguely melodic dancing going on here. I realize I'm criticizing Sister Bliss' taste here more than anything, as she does a fine job with the mix and the flow of the disc, but I can't help it -- there's just not a lot to truly enjoy on anything more than a superficial level.
Finally, there's the "Home" disc, compiled by Maxi Jazz. As it turns out, Mr. Eyes-Half-Open is just as mellow as one would expect, choosing lots of down-tempo selections from lots of semi-obscure artists, with a heavy dollop of reggae/Jamaican influence. Massive Attack fans (as most Faithless fans are) will be pleased to find Horace Andy's delightfully lo-fi "Money Money (AKA the Root of All Evil)" here, its sparse backing track and minor-key bassline as ingratiating as anything else on all three of these discs. Jungle Brothers' "Straight Out the Jungle" is another inspired selection, a laid-back hip-hop track that very likely serves as a pretty major inspiration for the Maxi Jazz style, as is Todd Rundgren's short, beautiful "Remember Me", which closes out the comp. Mr. Jazz even throws a couple of his own tracks in for good measure: A chill, summery hip-hop number called "Grab the Mic" (here credited to Kool DJ Maxi Jazz) and a guest spot on a Jason Robello remake of the recently-omnipresent Porgy and Bess hit "Summertime".
Perhaps most surprising is the presence of a slow, reverent remake of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time", even if it is sung (and wonderfully so, I might add) by jazz songstress Cassandra Wilson -- it's hard to gauge how prepared a fan of Faithless is going to be to sing along to a Cyndi Lauper song. Regardless, one must admit that "Time After Time" is a fairly daring choice for a band that seems to put a lot of time into remaining relevant, particularly in the UK where their star continues to shine brightly.
3D is a daunting package to be sure, given that at almost 230 minutes of music, it's nearly impossible to digest in a single listening session. Somewhat surprisingly, it's not exactly bargain-priced, either. Still, this is a release aimed square at the heart of the diehard Faithless fan, the one who's been there from the beginning, the one who's been waiting for so long with baited breath for the group's newest release, To All New Arrivals. For those, the devoted, 3D will be a treasure trove of rarities and hints into the psyche of at least two of the members (it's not clear whether Rollo had any involvement in the assembly of 3D) of one of the more revered electronic bands of our time, with excellent liner notes to match. Those are the listeners Renaissance Presents 3D is aimed at, and those are the listeners who will love it.