A recovering rock band that has grown out of going electro for novelty's sake, The Faint has never lacked for ambition. After tooling around with various sounds for a few years, the group attracted a lot of eyes with a pair of records that veered sharply from the confessional indie-rock of its Omaha, Nebraska hometown. Mascara and synthesizers don't always make for an ideology, but they do when leaned against peers like Bright Eyes and Cursive, both of which have grown, incidentally or not, a bit more Faint-like lately.
Skeptics are still as numerous as fans, but there's little doubting The Faint's big-minded drive on Wet From Birth. The songs sound less like cues for preening stage moves, and the new-wave tinges wear fewer quotation marks. "Desperate Guys" kicks off with a telling touch of grandeur, with strings that saw and swoop with all the gaudy gloss of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It's a curious addition to The Faint's sound, but pomposity suits the album, which is as suited for a cabaret as for a rock or dance club. Songs like "I Disappear" straddle all three: Over a thick, heavy disco groove, the band lays antic handclaps and chiming guitar chords against lyrics leery of getting lost in motion. Elsewhere, the lyrics take fanciful detours through heart-torn goth moods and thudding poetic punches. (See "Erection," a weak addition to the canon of boner songs.)
Wet From Birth is generally strongest when the beats-per-minute run high"Paranoiattack" and "Symptom Finger" do well by their allegiance to dance musicbut a few of the slower tracks showcase The Faint's growing way with melody. "Phone Call" surveys an unsatisfying breakup over a lilting reggae backdrop, sidestepping the album's rhythmic jones, but remembering it somewhere in the back of its restless mind.