by Max Sparber in

I have a new wave story to tell. Years ago, when Peter Gabriel’s “So” came out, a song from it caught my mother’s ear. We were driving somewhere, and it was on the radio, and she asked “Is this Peter Gabriel?” And then she said, “We used to live by him.” 

Many years ago, my family lived in Bath, a ceremonial county of Somerset in Southwest England. Properly, we lived in Swainswick, a civil parish that is part of the Bath and North East Somerset unitary authority, and I will demur from any more of these details, because the more you discuss the English countryside, the more Mr. Toad and Mr. Badger it all becomes. Let’s just say that I lived on the sort of little farm you see in movies, and my brother constantly fell in nettle patches, and there was a large hill out my back window that had a tiny little village on it called Woolley, and Woolley had an annual fair with hobby horses and Punch costumes and morris dancers.

So it was that sort of a place, and not the kind of place you expect to discover Peter Gabriel lived, as he was then making densely-layered, synthesizer-based art pop with a distinct international influence. Instead, you sort of expected to move a toadstood and find a bearded man in a newsboy cap playing a hurdy gurdy.

But there he was, in Woolley, and the hill it was on was Solsbury Hill, which became one of his songs. My mother was friends with his then-wife, who organized the Woolley festival, and, as it turned out, I went to a little 12th century church once in a while with his daughters, and it’s all turning Toad and Badger again. 

The reason I mention this is because I am writing about The Faint’s new album, “Doom Abuse.” I know everybody mentions new wave when discussing The Faint, and I know it must be tiring for them, although they have let on that they do listen to a lot of new wave, but let me explain why I once again am raising the dreaded specter of a moribund genre to discuss a contemporary band.

I was a new waver when I was in high school, and, in my heart’s private chambers, I still am. I had skinny ties, high tops, and that hairstyle that consists of longs bangs that drape across the eyes as though all the bleaching and all the dry look mousse had finally exhausted it. I was then a Minnesotan, and new wave appealed to me for a few reasons. Firstly, it had an art school worldliness to it, with its hits tackling such international subjects as The Metro, commissars, luftballoons, and the pop music of New York, London, Brussels, Munich. Secondly, especially with synthpop, it seemed very science fiction. I may have been a Minneapolitan, and, for a while, when I was very young, an English country boy, but as a fan of new wave, I was a citizen of the world, and it was the world of the future. 

As it turns out, Peter Gabriel’s Bath years aren’t unique. Tears for Fears also hailed from Bath, and, in fact, would borrow instruments from Gabriel. Aztec Camera came from suburban East Kilbride in Scotland. Bauhaus came from Northampton, 70 miles northwest of London. The Cure came from Crawley. Depeche Mode came from Basildon. Echo and the Bunnyman were Liverpoodlian. And on it goes like that, through the alphabet: Q-Feel from Southampton, Soft Cell from Leeds, XTC from Swindon, Yazoo from Basildon. All these cosmopolitan spacemen roaming the streets of tomorrow’s international cities hailed from farm towns, fishing villages, and coal mining centers. New wave was not an exclusively rural phenomenon, but it was largely a rural phenomenon, and perhaps that’s why it appealed to a boy who lived in a midwestern mill town, and perhaps that why it still has resonance in a midwestern train terminus and meat packing center.

Whenever I read about The Faint, they are asked about Omaha, perhaps with the same surprise that I felt in learning that Peter Gabriel lived on the same nettle patch that my brother used to fall into. And nobody really seems to know what to say about this once boom town, this dimmed and tarnished jewel of the Missouri, except that it’s cheap to live here and there’s a lot more going on than you might expect. But it’s the perfect place to be a new waver, or, at least, to be part of a band inspired by new wave. Because you can live anywhere and, if you have a synth guitar and enough mousse, you too can be a citizen of the future world, and the truth is, if you move aside a toadstool, you’ll find a new wave band.

Anyway, I have listed to The Faint’s new album a half dozen times in the past few days, and it’s terrific. It’s the first in a half-dozen years, years the band describes as ones in which they were rediscovering the joy of being a band. They set out to make this album fast and sloppy, so they wouldn’t get bogged down in the humdrum of precision production. They wanted to catch their music at the moment they discovered it, and they wanted to plug in sounds they discovered at the moment they were still excited by them. At least, that’s the sense I get from the few interviews and press statements they have put out about the album.

I love it. I love that their sense of fun involved really noisy machine sounds. I love that the album is repeatedly punctuated by guitar riffs that sound like somebody threw Prince down a well and the pelted him with garbage. I love that so many of the songs are about unbalanced psychological states, and that the sounds that excited them sometimes resemble the harmony parts from Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” It’s a breakneck pile-on of an album, and it’s the product of people who have an awful lot of pop craftsmanship, and so even when they’re losing their minds, it comes out as hooks and bridges and intros and middle-eights. This is The Faint’s idea of fun, and it is my idea of fun, and I’m ready to break out the skinny tie again, put it around my neck, and then, inspired by the mania of this album, set it on fire. 

It’s great stuff, and it’s no surprise it comes from Omaha. Like Sussex, like Essex, like Wessex, like Devon and Dorset before us, we’re more than capable of strapping on our synthesizers and climbing through dirty old windows into a Metro of our mind. We may need it more, and we do it well.

Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a historian, playwright, and critic. Follow him on Twitter or email him with your arts events at

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff! I just love their sense of curiosity and fun as an art group. Cool connection with Gabriel (and you, and The Faint). Can't wait put Doom Abuse in my ear!