With 2004’s Wet from Birth, Omaha quintet the Faint took a nasty little step away from the world of retro dance and into the land of Goth-kid apathy. The results were admittedly bold but, unfortunately, spotty. While Danse Macabre (that album’s lauded predecessor) took the band’s proposed new wave reboot to soaring heights of bastardized dance-pop hybrids with razor-sharp synth melodies, the Faint has never been an outfit concerned with meeting expectations. Each of their LPs have been significantly different in tone as well as delivery, making it hard to fault them completely for Wet from Birth without also faulting ourselves for having any expectations at all. So the album, while sinister, joyless and cheeky, almost made sense as a logical accompaniment to the technical prowess and promise displayed on Danse Macabre.
With a Depeche Mode kind of darkness, the Faint’s latest, Fasciination, deals in sexual politics and, oddly, actual politics with enough aural texture to stand alongside the aforementioned giant’s lesser albums (like Ultra), but lacks the perspective and inexplicable gothic perfection to stand with their best (Music for the Masses, Violator). The album has an odd appeal in that it sees the Faint finding something resembling a smile underneath the far-too-layered instrumentation and seedy persona that it imparts. However, while getting caught up in self-righteous philosophy, as well as some lazy repetition, it comes off as slight, a footnote in the band’s catalog, when you expect the sort of complete revamp they’ve exhibited on previous efforts.
After a decade on Saddle Creek, this is the Faint’s first album completely written and produced on their own. Rather than breeding a newfound excitement within the music, however, it has really only instilled a sense of complacency. It’s not that songs like “Forever Growing Centipedes,” “Fulcrum and Lever” and “Mirror Error” are complete failures, but their half-developed ideas don’t fully connect or inspire repeat listens. While rich in sonic playfulness, Fasciination is hit or miss in a very disappointing way.
The guitar-driven, keyboard-heavy “Psycho,” on the other hand, proves to be a fun little romp, while “Fish in a Womb” is a gentle but eerie opus that may be one of the better tracks the Faint has ever written. “The Geeks Were Right,” perhaps the album’s most likely hit, is a tight throwback to their more dance-punk days; “Machine in the Ghost” is a pop-minded would-be club banger with a mentality geared toward cultural awareness that thankfully isn’t as snide as it could be.
Ultimately, Fasciination has enough passable triumphs mixed in with the misfires that the album is brought to a level of acceptable fluff. This is a strange turn of events, seeing as the Faint’s drive has always been a defining part of their personality. For better or for worse, their ambitions have taken hold of each album that they’ve created and made each, at the very least, a unique experience. With Fasciination, though, the Faint find themselves in the middle of the road, caught between their old ambitions and their newfound creature comforts.