The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Friday, December 13, 2002

The sudden last-minute onrush of great albums this year continues unabashed, as though submitting themselves in time for Oscar nominations - the Roots (discussed on Tuesday), Common (to be discussed on Monday), Clearlake, Toktok & Soffy O, Busta Rhymes, Erick Sermon, the "New" Folk Implosion (you might have to wait until after the New Year for reviews of some of these, since I want to concentrate on end-of-year summaries next week before I go away for the hols)...and today's nominated candidate for hagiography, The Faint and their second album Danse Macabre.

The sleeve of the album could have come straight out of 1980 - red/vermillion/black lettering/white lettering/urban greyness/cut-and-paste, like something on Malicious Damage Records. But the music comes out of an imagined, rather than an actual, 1981; to be specific, this is the album which we all wish Duran Duran actually had made, but which sonically of course could never have been imagined in 1981. It's undeniable that Todd Baesche's vocals sound like Simon Le Bon, but the rhythms and attitudes are straight out of now. Think, perhaps, of a pumped-up Duran Duran with Paul Morley managing, Cabaret Voltaire producing and Althusser on the lyrical tip. It's that good - 35 minutes long and not a second wasted.

It's sublime and hard-edged pop which impels you to throw yourself drunkenly around your abode. Hear the opener "Agenda Suicide" which comes across like "Planet Earth" relocated in the blackest of holes. The lyrics are standard suburban angst - "but work makes pretty little homes...the drones work hard before they die" - but somehow this manages to be considerably more urgent than, say, the smug defeatism of Radiohead. There are great curlicues of electroclash-type noises, dips and bends which remind you that an imagined nostalgia is always more potent than the cold past reality. Adaptable amnesia.

The rest of the album follows pretty much the same course - it is completely fabulous, even as they unleash a tirade against dancing ("Glass Danse" which manages to whup the ass of Re-Flex's "Politics of Dancing" and subvert itself to become a floorfiller). "Total Job" utilises a "Vietnamese job list vocal" cut-up, "Let The Poison Spill From Your Throat" is rockier (with a great throwaway line "you'd need a royal eclipse of the tongue"). They even assault their own self-awareness and revivalist irony in general with "Your Retro Career Melted" which nonetheless is driven by a phenomenal squealing synth motif and is the most danceable thing here. "Posed To Death" appears to be a fantasy about murdering Prince Charles ("so selfish royal brother/you've loved your wife to death"). "Violent" is a vision of urban rot worthy of Def Jux; note the strings gathering in intensity and the heartbreaking, near-anthemic minor key theme which materialises towards the song's climax. "Ballad Of A Paralysed Citi (sic)" is their equivalent of Duran's finest moment "The Chauffeur," a slow song winding around itself methodically to dwindle down into stasis.

So yes, this is a terrific misericordia of a pop record, simultaneously sexual and despairing. It rubs your face in the dirt, as do a surprising number of this year's finest records - parallel, perhaps, to the notion of life never being more fully lived or focused than when it's on the verge of extinction? - but does it so brilliantly that you bear the artist no ill-will for the subsequent dry-cleaning bill.

(NEXT WEEK ON CHURCH OF ME: that Common record, Bad Things About 2002, Good Things About 2002 (people, music, literature, cinema, things, feelings), sundry it's a year already comments. Running order to be decided)

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