Saddle Creek | The Faint | Reviews


Danse Macabre

Author: George Zahora
09/01/2001 | Splendid E-zine | | Album Review
Experience tells us not to trust an album called Danse Macabre. Experience tells us to be wary of songs that reference death, suicide and poison. Experience tells us to run, not walk, away from punk bands who've gone New Wave.

Well, experience can bugger off. Danse Macabre is a damn fine record.

The Faint's previous effort, 1999's Blank-Wave Arcade, was a clever but ultimately unbalanced fusion of punk-rock energy and new wave artificiality. The songs, while energetic, deserved better than basement-level recording quality; ironically, while punk may have been the music of the people, The Faint's variety of techno-Euro-pop thrived on its sanitized, high-tech studio sheen. That's the first thing that will hit you about Danse Macabre: it simply sounds more "authentic". The music is richer-hell, at times it's downright decadent.

Blank-Wave Arcade wasn't a laugh-fest, but its lyrical preoccupation with sex offered most
listeners a ready frame of reference. Danse Macabre is far darker. While there's no obvious
unifying theme, many songs seem to address the modern class struggle, playing the "haves" against the "have nots". The rich are seen living in the lap of indolent luxury, while the poor accept squalor as their due. Drone-like workers chase their dreams of "pretty little houses"...and in the background, the threat of violence looms, promising a dystopian Hell-on-Earth. Like Depeche Mode at their most fatalistic, The Faint have little faith in love, joy or progress. Fortunately, while their lyrics alternate between goth-friendly gloom and stark, "Warm Leatherette"-style techno-brutality, The Faint mostly avoid the heavy-handed excesses that a title like Danse Macabre implies. There's no "Kiss the blade" lyrical rubbish, no vampirism; high school goth girl poetry and low-rent Reznorisms have no place in The Faint's sterile world. Their worst offense in this department, as the CD booklet demonstrates, is not knowing the difference between its and it's.

Musically, Danse Macabre shines. Although guitars are creeping back into The Faint's music, it's eminently danceable. No, not that stupid, loose-limbed white-kid-dancing practiced by Dismemberment Fans; "Agenda Suicide", "Glass Danse" and others could fit easily into a DJ set-between, say, a Rosetta Stone remix and a Cabaret Voltaire track. The beats are solid, if spartan, and the rhythms are persistent. "Let the Poison Spill from Your Throat" offers a maddeningly familiar intro, either copped directly from an arcade machine/NES cartridge or written to sound exactly like one. "Posed to Death" perfectly captures the herky-jerky rhythmic experiments of the new wave era, while "The Conductor" starts out like the best song The Sisters of Mercy never wrote, permitting new guitarist/former death metal axeman Dapose to make his mark with some marvelous buzzsaw action, then adds heavily treated vocals and a chorus of "Control". Better start practicing your robot moves. In general, there's a strong feeling that everyone in the band is trying harder this time around. The irony is in the lyrics, where it belongs,
rather than in the band's performance; there are no nods, no winks, no subtle mockery of the music that inspired them. The unspoken subtext-"Hey, we're punk kids playing new wave! Isn't that funny?"-is gone, and the music speaks for itself (though like most classic
new wave, it doesn't have a lot to say). The Faint has grown up...a little, at least.

The best thing about Danse Macabre is its perspective. You can appreciate it as a new approach to twenty year-old musical ideas, enjoying the subtle ways in which the band modernizes ideas first advanced back when people still thought analog keyboards, hair gel
and parachute pants were pretty neat ideas. Or you can ignore all that retro shit and appreciate it as a compelling, energetic product of 2001. It's your call. You don't have to buy into any trends to enjoy Danse Macabre. You don't even have to dance if you don't want to. But you'll probably want to.
Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre

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