Since the breakout success the Faint had with 2001's Danse Macabre, the band's sound has become more mature and eclectic, as Wet from Birth, the group's fourth album, demonstrates. Relying less on overpowering synths and more on subtle electronics, prickly guitar work, and heavy, often chopped-up beats, the band sounds both more rock and more overtly electronic than it ever has before, while avoiding dated electroclash pitfalls. Though the Faint still mines the '80s for inspiration, the band seems to be moving forward, however slightly, with songs like album opener "Desperate Guys," which sets a typically Faint tale of sexual dysfunction to trilling violins, twanging guitars, and glitchy rhythms. The jabbing guitars on "I Disappear" have hints of dance-punk lurking around the edges -- which isn't really surprising, since the Faint has been influenced by new wave and post-punk since long before many of the new new wave revivalists existed -- and "Southern Belles in London Sing" enlists Azure Ray's vocals as a part of the song's fey, Baroque synth pop confection. But though Wet from Birth is the Faint's most modern and ambitious-sounding work, the album is let down too often by weak and predictable songwriting. The group's dystopian, Phillip K. Dick-goes-pop vision of dysfunctional relationships, conspicuous consumption, and corrupt politics is growing stale and overly jaded: "Symptom Finger"'s denouncement of as-seen-on-TV pharmaceuticals is well meaning and its throbbing, feverish synths are evocative, but clunky catch phrases like "telepharmavangelism" just get in the way. Likewise, "Paranoiattack" has the rhetorical thrust of !!! or Radio 4, but it comes a little too late to the (political) party. "Birth," a graphic remembrance of conception and being born, aspires to be powerful, but lyrics such as "my brain wouldn't fit through her organ of sex" just sound kind of ridiculous. Worse, throughout the album Todd Baechle's famously choppy, monotonous delivery sounds more dull than detached. Even though Wet from Birth occasionally gets tripped up on its own ambitions, it still has its share of enjoyable tracks: "Erection" might be a puerile in-joke, but its X-rated rewrite of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" is still undeniably fun; the dark, dubby "Phonecall" is a welcome addition to the ranks of stalker pop; and "Dropkick the Punks" does indeed kick things into gear in a way that should have happened more often on the album. Containing some of the Faint's best and worst moments, Wet from Birth is often a frustrating album; while the band's style is evolving, the Faint still needs to work on its substance.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares