Muzik | Album | May 1996 | Photo: Martyn Gallina-Jones
You've read the features, you've read the reviews, and you've decided you'd better buy this bloody Faithless album. You're off to a good start.
So you get it home and stick it on. You sit back. And at some point during the next hour or so, there will come a point when you suddenly realise just how badly your toenails need cutting. "Reverence" will blow your socks off so fucking hard, you'll be picking bits of wool up from the carpet for the rest of the week.
Those whose knowledge of Rollo and Sister Bliss's group extends no further than the stadium house euphoria of their "Salva Mea" and "Insomnia" singles will turn white with shock upon hearing this album. Not least because these are the only two identifiably clubby tracks included. But even those familiar with the recent Faithless hit "Don't Leave", a tear-streaked hug of a ballad complete with all the little pops, scratches and 45 schluffffts per minute you might expect from one of Aunt Mary's original Beatles singles, will not be fully prepared for the musical promiscuity of "Reverence".
Faithless indeed. Shamelessly so.
"Reverence" starts with the title track, a slo-mo tease from its dubby opening through to the scratch 'n' feedback close, Maxi Jazz's meandering rhymes adding dozens of other dimensions along the way. At the other end of the album is "Drifting Away", a wood-block shuffle with a deliciously wispy keyboard melody and an Italian opera singer thrown in for good measure. In between these two tracks, there's house, funk, disco, reggae, rap, jazz, soul, blues, folk, gospel, swing, classical, ragtime and a bit of oompah. No kidding. There's 21st century technoid wizardry and age-old organic simplicity. There's hands-in-the-air mania and a flat-capped pigeon fancier playing the spoons.
The slinky and sexy "If Loving You Is Wrong" is one of the highlights. The bassline has more wiggle than a jelly baby on a catwalk and lines like "Put your legs over there and kinda swing on the chair / I swear you look wicked wit’cha panties in your hair" rub up against cartoon-esque moaning and groaning. The playful vibe continues with "Dirty Old Man", while "Flowerstand Man" is a love song that hauls the notion of innocence deep into the realms of stupidity. Which is not to say it's not totally brilliant. Top marks to Dido, Rollo's sweet voiced sister.
In stark contrast, "Angeline" is a wretched cry for help. Featuring Jamie Catto, vocalist on "Don't Leave", it sounds like it was written by Jacques Brel. It starts with a smoker's cough and you can almost hear the whisky dribbling from the corner of Catto's mouth as he sings. You can almost smell his lost love's cheap perfume. With its sea shanty rhythm and plaintive hornpipe, this is a song for smugglers everywhere. Bluffers, boozers, gamblers and whores too.
Despite each number sounding as if it's the work of a completely different band, the confidence with which Rollo and Bliss dare to take on each radical musical shift is the most immediately obvious common denominator. At times, it's audacious. Especially when you consider that the entire album was recorded in just over a fortnight. Most producers take that long trying to get the musicians away from the pool table.
Initially less clear, but ultimately far more significant, is the lyrical content. The key is when Maxi declares, "Money, success, untold wealth and good health / And all you have to do is love yourself / You don’t need eyes to see / You need vision" on the title cut. From there on, right the way through, there's an all-ecompassing sense of self belief and self worth, a feeling that there is hope in even the darkest of those dark moments, that there is value in even the most hellish states of life. Just have to have a bit of faith in yourself. See your local friendly Buddhist for further details.
In the end, it doesn't matter if you're male or female, young or old, rich or poor, a manic depressive or a party monster. Whatever your world, something here will touch you so deeply that you'll think Rollo and Bliss have been stalking you since you were born. It's an astonishing achievement.