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Faust IV Review
Head Heritage, 29 Jul 2002
Faust IV is the album where Faust consolidate all of the myriad soundworlds of their previous three records into one. The abstraction of Faust, the rhythmic cohesion of So Far and the cut-and-paste heroics of The Faust Tapes are here combined into a diverse collection of pieces and songs that encapsulate all that is special and unique about this most distinctive and innovative band. Easy listening it isn't, yet there is a strange and compelling accessibility and inevitability about this album that will attract the attention of even the most conservative listener, at least in part. Like it's budget-priced predecessor, Faust IV was and is a key record in my realisation and appreciation of pop music beyond its commercialised forebears. But it's taken its time, a long, long time, to hit me.
I wonder how many early owners of Faust IV did as I did and The Sad Skinhead aside, ignored the well-weird (or so it seemed at the time) first side in favour of the comparatively conventional second side. I've now come to love side one to distraction, but still prefer to listen to the album in reverse order. Side two begins with Faust as hard rock behemoths: Just A Second being a short, heavy-as-sin instrumental that sounds like Sabbath, Ash Ra Tempel and The Grateful Dead all melted into one and with treble set to eleven. But any hopes of winning over prospective buyers from the Ozzy fanbase are soon allayed by the free-form Picnic On A Frozen River, Deuxieme Tableau that follows: a short but attention-grabbing piece that helps prevent any impression of a straight-ahead rock band. Giggy Smile is a nearest Faust get to just that: a two-stage rock epic with manic rising and falling vocal scales over Bolanesque tinny axework in the first part, and the best Yazoo keyboard lick that Vince Clarke never wrote in the second. Lauft...Heist das es lauft Oder es Kommt Bald...Lauft is, in total contrast, basically a delightful vignette in the same mode as that consolidatory French-language acoustic piece that ends The Faust Tapes, only this time jauntier, more rhythmic and utterly irresistable, falling into a still, droning synth and harmonium phase that sounds like a cosmic collaboration between Klaus Schulze and Ivor Cutler. The side's final track, It's A Bit Of A Pain, is an endearing ditty (in the manner of 'Unhalfbricking'-era Fairports) whose release as a 45 seems a sound enough choice until the most jarring and dischordant sustained note, mixed at a higher volume than the rest of the song, wails over the "...but it's alright babe" chorus. The effect is unwelcome, disturbing, and in the last resort incredible. Play this as the background for seduction and see how far you get. A song for loners!
Which brings us (in my own perverse order) to side one, track one, and the twelve demanding minutes of Krautrock, the album's apex. It's taken me best part of three decades to get it, but now that I have, it's the first Faust track I'd play to anyone. It's a racket almost beyond words, but totally compelling. I'm convinced that Lou Reed must have heard this before he set to work on 'Metal Machine Music'. The same high frequency guitar tone, in-your-face feedback, and rhythms that are so mixed down in the mellee that they have to be imagined (at least until the drums come in two-thirds through - and what a moment THAT is) permeate the piece. Play this at full volume through headphones and you simply become at one with it. You'll have one hell of a headache but one hell of a high. Sheer, unadulterated power with no tune and no compromise - perfect.
The song that follows is simply not on the same planet, and I don't know of any successive tracks on any album that differ as much as Krautrock and this one. Nearer to 'The Pushbike Song' than cosmic music, The Sad Skinhead is the single that never was. It would have been a wow at school discos in 1973, especially the raucous fight scenes that accompany the vibe-driven middle section. It's as crass as The Pipkins and as catchy as mumps and I love it.
Jennifer is dirge-like, hypnotic and spacey with Donovan-like vocals over an incongruous and repetative bass rhythm that sounds like the lick at the beginning of Floyd's 'One Of These Days'. It's a beautiful song that builds slowly until the sheer glass guitar noise that began Krautrock twenty minutes earlier takes over, only to end with an amusingly out-of-place stride piano. Diverse, distracting and delectable.
With this album, Faust took their leave of us for two decades, although Virgin reportedly rejected a fifth album by the band. I think I can see why. Faust IV is, in all aspects, everything that Faust can offer in 45 minutes. I have heard some of the reformed band's projects but nothing comes close to the variety, originality and excitement of the first four albums and Faust IV in particular. It's still available as a cheap Virgin reissue and is worth £6 of any head's money. If you don't believe me, read Keith's Aching Bowels' review of last year and Julian's Krautrocksampler. Then just buy it, cherish it, and play it every week.Fitter Stoke, " ", Head Heritage 2002, © Head Heritage