Faithless 2.0 Is A Well-Deserved Victory Lap For The Dance Pioneers
Faithless were a beloved British dance trio that consisted of vocalist/rapper, Maxi Jazz; musical composer, Sister Bliss; and producer, Rollo Armstrong. Surfing a dance wave that swept through Europe in the ‘90s, Faithless brought “stadium house” to the masses with their epic, layered electronic masterpieces. With first single, “Salva Mea,” they immediately differentiated themselves from cutesy “pop” dance acts like the Spice Girls and Aqua. The eleven-minute, epic journey of a song featured Rollo’s sister (and future British songbird), Dido, on the haunting opening vocal, and served notice that Faithless were a force to be reckoned with.
But it was the follow-up, “Insomnia,” that really put Faithless on the map. The largely instrumental track had a dark, almost sinister undercurrent that resonated beyond just the ravers, propelling the song to #3 in the UK.
Regarded as a dance classic (readers of Mixmag voted it 5th best of all time in a 2013 poll), “Insomnia” allowed Faithless to continue to craft expert dance tunes throughout the late ‘90s and the ‘00s. While they were relegated to the dance charts on this side of the Atlantic, their infusion of trip-hop and trance over six studio albums and one greatest hits collection made them one of the most venerated acts in Great Britain. The band went their separate ways in 2011, having succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
However, with 2015 marking their twentieth anniversary, Faithless decided to celebrate by reforming for a run of shows at the end of the year. Further commemorating the milestone, they curated a half-remix/half-greatest-hits album, titled Faithless 2.0, as a thank you to their fans. For the remixes, the band corralled a who’s-who of dance music titans, including Avicii, Armin van Buuren, Eric Prydz, Tiesto, and Above and Beyond; the caliber of talent on hand is a monumental testament to Faithless’ legendary status in the genre. Consequently, Faithless 2.0 was set to be one of the big dance albums to close out 2015.
Sadly, while the concept for Faithless 2.0 is both promising and alluring, the album disappoints. Bizarrely, this is not due to the quality of the remixes. In fact, almost all of them are at least decent; instead, the album frustrates because the results are less than the sum of their parts. And this is for two reasons:
1. The original Faithless versions are already flawless.
The best example of this is their 2001 hit, “We Come 1.” The original song was already a perfect floor-filler, bouncing with an urgency and significance that stood out from the manufactured dance fluff of its day.
Armin van Buuren had the unenviable task of remixing the song for Faithless 2.0, and while his trance-heavy interpretation still allows the song to shine, his additions do not capture the song in a new or noteworthy light.
Compounding the issue, Faithless’ more familiar songs became exalted dance anthems, meaning any subsequent alteration to their sound is tantamount to sacrilege. Avicii found this out the hard way when his remix of perennial favorite, “Insomnia,” was met with disdain. His remix was adequate, but as it wasn’t a note-for-note copy, Avicii was burned at the stake for heresy the instant his version debuted. In this sense, Faithless 2.0 is an unfortunate victim of the band’s long-standing success.
2. The big-name talents under-perform.
Given the marquee names involved, the remixes should have been brilliant. But more often than not, the superstar DJs add surprisingly little to the mix: Tiesto adds a bass-y layer to “God is a DJ,” but the results are almost imperceptible from the original. Compare them here:
The song is one of Faithless’ more recognizable hits, and given Tiesto’s acclaimed history with successful remixes of everyone from Britney Spears to Coldplay, his contribution to this album is especially disheartening in its inadequacy. In a similar fashion, Eric Prydz amps up the darker house elements of “Not Going Home,” allowing the song to descend further down the rabbit hole of all-night dance floor depravity… but it lacks originality, making the effort feel hollow given Prydz’ decade-plus pedigree. The big-time dance acts involved with this project could’ve turned this album into a proper smash; instead, their contributions sound like empty echoes.
Perhaps surprisingly, the lesser-known acts make the bravest statements on Faithless 2.0. Purple Disco Machine is just beginning to make a name for himself as a DJ, but his remix of “Miss U Less, See U More” stands out from the pack by drawing out the song’s darker, more haunting qualities — the layered backing vocals and repetitive instrumentation — while retaining the almost-jazzy vibe of the original. Purple Disco Machine does what Avicii and Tiesto could not: His remix adds something new to a Faithless song, while still paying respectful homage to the original version.
Even more courageous are the reworkings of Faithless’ ballads: Up and comers, Until the Ribbon Breaks, transform the dreamy ballad, “Don’t Leave” into a strange, disjointed lament. While the original was a beautiful love letter, the remix is a funeral march for a madman. Similarly, newbie Autograf reworks the trippy, after-hours ballad, “Drifting Away,” into a piano banger. Because these remixes deviate so wildly from the template of the originals, the results may sound jarring — but these new acts should be applauded for attempting to bring something fresh to the familiar Faithless sound.
It’s important to take note of two standout remixes: The first is Above and Beyond’s transformation of “Salva Mea.” By reducing the rich, deep layers of the original version into a clinical, sterile beat, they’ve managed to expose a different element of the song; when mixed with the best bits of the original — including that all-mighty build and drop! — the resultant remix works wonders.
The other standout is Axwell’s turn on “Music Matters.” The original version is a dreamy, breezy ballad that’s one of Faithless’ weaker singles, but Axwell works his magic, transforming the song into a house banger that explodes with euphoric bliss; his is the definitive version. However, given that his remix was available as early as 2006, Axwell’s remix should have appeared on the greatest hits half of the album, not the remix half.
Speaking of, the second half of Faithless 2.0 is the aforementioned greatest hits. Although the original versions on this half all glisten like gold, the tracklist between the remixes and the greatest hits curiously do not synch up, with four remixes and five original versions lacking a corresponding match — another strange quirk on an already confusing album.
Ultimately, these shortcomings mean nothing, as Faithless 2.0 did exactly what it set out to do: It hit number one in the UK and drummed up interest in their upcoming shows. Therefore, if the album can divorce itself from unrealistic expectation, it can be enjoyed for what it really is: A lap of honor for a band celebrating twenty amazing years in the music business. Faithless 2.0 doesn’t add anything new to their canon, but it’s a perfect reminder of how great they really were.