The Faint with TV on the Radio and Beep Beep at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Sunday (October 10), 8 pm. $15. 416-532-1598, 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
For a group of professional contrarians like the Faint - who've made a career of moving in the opposite direction from popular music trends - being caught playing throwback post-punk jams in the midst of an 80s revival fad is troubling just to contemplate.
So after their 2001 breakthrough disc, Danse Macabre (Saddle Creek), scored them a high-profile tour with No Doubt in 2002 and several potentially lucrative major-label offers, the Faint decided it was time for a breather to figure out where it all went so horribly right and how to get back on track.
"I would have to agree that a lot of what we do is a reaction to what's happening around us," concedes bassist Joel Peterson from his Omaha home, where he's wondering how he'll manage double tour duties playing with openers Beep Beep as well.
"Quite a bit of time passed since we'd put out Danse Macabre, and many more people were listening to our band and writing things about our music. All of that had an effect on making the new record. We didn't want to make Danse Macabre, Part 2 and we didn't want to see the words '80s retro' in reviews. Like most artists, we want to be judged on what we do, not the other baggage."
The result is the stylishly slinky Wet From Birth (Saddle Creek) disc, which finds our crew deftly employing strings to pull themselves out of the dance-rock doldrums.
From the solo violin passage that opens the adventurous new album, it's apparent that it isn't jerky business as usual for the Faint.
"It wasn't like one of us said, 'Let's do an album with strings.' That happened on a song-by-song basis, starting with Desperate Guys, the first song we wrote for the new album.
"The idea for the violin part came from hearing a recording of this 13-year-old kid playing a Paganini piece. We loved this little part of it, so we tried to incorporate it in a song by changing the key and moving some notes around. We even tried replaying the part with different instruments, but violin worked best, so we went with it."
Don't think for a second the Faint have gone all chamber, chilled with classical pretensions. The raunchy disco bounce of I Disappear, the album's party-rocking first single, proves they're still very much a dance-floor threat.
Other than the subtle melodic swipe of Petula Clark's There Goes My Love, There Goes My Life, what really makes the song is Peterson's vicious bass line, which sounds like something Bootsy Collins might've come up with playing his Space Bass through a Mu-Tron.
Evidently, no such effects pedals were abused in the making of I Disappear, but speakers are another story.
"We were going for something nasty, but we still wanted a certain degree of clarity. So instead of using some kind of distortion pedal, we turned everything way up and tried wrecking the speakers by sticking stuff in the cone - knives, forks, even a flattened pop can - to get the buzz of an overdriven amp. I think it worked."
As for the song's intriguing allusion to spirit possession, Peterson confirms that was inspired by events witnessed at a vodou ceremony attended by singer/keyboardist Todd Baechle on a recent trip to Haiti. It proved to be a life-altering excursion.
"We tend to write about things that happen in our lives, so if something significant occurs, it's likely going to show up in a song. The lyrics of I Disappear deal with something Todd saw, but from what he told us, that song doesn't get anywhere near the depth of what he experienced in Haiti.
"He came back saying he'd seen things he'd never thought could be real, and how his mind had been opened to how the universe might actually work. I think he's still trying to make sense of it all."