Rollo Armstrong, Sister Bliss and Maxi Jazz formed Faithless in 1995.
Faithless released their third album "Outrospective" recently. The album elevates the band's often-celebrated eclecticism to newer heights. The album covers the broadest sweep of emotions and atmospheres, from melancholy to mad love, from glorious empowerment to bittersweet tales of love gone wrong. "Outrospective" throbs with a very real vitality.
"Outrospective" came after a lengthy break away from Faithless' relentless touring schedule, a factor which informed the melancholy mood and lyrics of 'Sunday 8pm". Faithless had after all spent four years out of five touring since the release of their revelatory debut 'Reverence', as they literally took their music to any place that had shown an interest in the record. This meant that the band found themselves in such unlikely situations as playing shows in the Arctic Circle, on the golden sands in Puerto Rico and under armed guard in Turkey. Having been largely ignored by the mainstream in the UK, they returned from their travels as veterans of the worldwide live scene, something that few bands in their domain could lay claim to. Their epic house singles such as 'Insomnia' and 'Sale Mea' had an unmistakable impact and influence on the sound of contemporary dance music. Often imitated, never bettered, as they say. The album's eclectic scope (house, blues, soul, rap, folk all feature) stood out in a time of no-risk policies.
Maxi Jazz had spent years prior to joining Faithless rapping far and wide, Djing on pirate radio in London and running his record label. His faith (he is a Nicheren Shoshu Buddhist) informs his extraordinarily powerful lyrics and he is the charismatic frontman of the band's live act. Sister Bliss, a classically trained pianist and successful house music producer in her own right, is without doubt the world's number one female DJ. It is Bliss who has the pleasure of road testing Faithless' new tunes off acetate, often fresh from the mixing desk.
Rollo's sister, Dido has performed lead vocals on tracks on all three Faithless albums and her debut album "No Angel" has since topped the UK and US charts. Rollo, who once admitted that he "can't play an instrument, can't dance in time, can't remember any melodies," doesn't play live with Faithless - 'pointless', he reckons, as he 'couldn't play anything onstage anyway'. Sister Bliss alleges that their studio relationship is "telepathic, symbiotic. He gets on with the broad strokes, textures, and colours - that's how he hears music, he's got that synaesthesia (a clinical condition where sounds have colour), he says 'make it really sad, like a rainy day, I want to hear thunder' - and I get on with all the fiddly bits."
Sister Bliss and Maxi Jazz are now the public face of the band. Both fiercely intelligent, Maxi Jazz's Buddhist worldwide complements Bliss' challenging opinions and encyclopedic house music knowledge. 1998's 'Sunday 8pm' repeated the success of 'Reverence', spawning three more hit singles, was an enormous critical success and in 1999 received nominations at The Brits, the MTV Europe Awards and was one of the twelve Mercury Prize nominations. To this date it has sold in excess of 1.2 million copies worldwide. Add to this the 1.5 million that 'Reverence' sold and four million singles and you have one of Europe's biggest dance artists.
There was more touring, including a stint co-headlining across South Africa with The Prodigy, and the headline slot of the Muzik Awards tour. They are widely regarded as one of the finest live acts of our generation. Maxi says: "When I'm on stage, I see couples who are at least 65. I see disco kids who scream whenever I move. I see people in their thirties, who listen intently, squeezing their eyes shut and pumping their fists whenever they hear lyrics they like. There's no such thing as a typical Faithless fan and I love that". Bliss continues: "When people come to our gigs, we want them to be lifted. Changed. Empowered. Moved off the ground." Good news; Faithless tour in the Autumn.
Despite claims that they wouldn't follow the panaromic heartbreak of 'Sunday 8pm' with more of the same, after early listenings to certain tracks off "Outrospective" it becomes clear that, sometimes, stadium melancholy is what they do best - the sweeping melodrama of 'One Step Too Far' (vocals by Dido), the hazy lament of 'Crazy English Summer", which featured vocals by Faithless debutante Zoe Johnston, and Maxi's rainy Autumn rap on 'Not Enuff Love'.
This time, however, the flipside to these swoonsome atmospheres take form of the rampant positivity of the Philly soul of 'Muhammad Ali', Maxi Jazz's devotional to the great man, and the dedication of love of the delirious single 'We Come 1' ("I'm the left eye, you're the right, would it not be madness to fight?"). "Outrospective" starts with a fanfare that signifies a deep-seated confidence and ends with the gigantic soul house of 'Liontamer'. In between it maps uncharted territory for the band, as well as redefining familiar Faithless templates. It thunders, basically.
In August 2000, Sister Bliss said, "I want this next album to be a groundbreaking one. I want this to be the peak of our creative powers." It looks like Faithless can add prescience to their manifold talents.
*Biography courtesy of BMG
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