Dance music in the 1990s was dominated by acts like Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Underworld, Leftfield and Basement Jaxx none of which had identifiable vocalists. Thus, the two most recognisable stars of ‘90s Dance may well have been Keith Flint, the indomitable frontman of The Prodigy, and Maxi Jazz, the insightful, oracle-like main vocalist for Faithless. With the sad news that Maxi Jazz passed away in December, we’re taking time to celebrate the album that introduced him to our world, Faithless’ 1996 debut ‘Reverence’. It’s important to note, prior to diving into consideration of ‘Reverence’, that the two biggest tracks it spawned were both released prior to the album hitting shops. Neither gained significant acclaim, though both would go on to be re-released soon after the album dropped to much more significant critical acclaim. Comprised of producers Rollo and Sister Bliss and vocalist Maxi Jazz, the trio were regularly joined by vocalists Jamie Catto and Dido who is Rollo’s sister and would later find solo fame with her albums ‘No Angel’ and ‘Life For Rent’. Opening with its title track, we’re immediately introduced to the rapped vocals of Maxi Jazz above a single piano chord and foggy electronics before a breakbeat takes hold. Soon enough the percussion drops out, a loose, staccato guitar riff picks up, and Maxi Jazz settles into a rap on the difficulties in life and the need to love yourself. It’s a warm, articulate and grooving opener more in keeping with Trip Hop than dancefloors that sets up the diversity of the album perfectly. Second track, ‘Don’t Leave’ opens as an acoustic ballad before branching into Soul vocals and a loose beat that would have been a chart-topper if released three years later in the wake of Moby’s smash ‘Play’. From there we go into the first of the pair of big guns with ‘Salva Mea’, a track that continued to be a part of Faithless’ live sets for the next two decades For some the track will be instantly recognisable from the opening strings before Dido’s Kate Bush like vocals waft in, others will need to wait patiently for the ascending, stepped synth riff to kick in a minute and a half in before recognition takes hold. Either way, whether knowing the track intimately or hearing it for the first time, those building synths leading you into a hyped up, propulsive beat before looping back in are likely to etch themselves in as they draw anticipation, build energy, increase heart rates and make promise that something big is coming. As muffled, loudhailer vocals and smashed cymbals ring out, the track instead slows to a squelchy bass groove and Maxi Jazz’s vocals cut in. It’s a formula that Faithless developed here for the first time; beginning deceptively slow, building anticipation and then delivering their message, and one they would repeat with success going forward. On tracks like ‘Salva Mea’ that anticipation is raised to almost frenetic levels while Jazz’s lyrics jive with the common topics of booze and drugs and life with little money. Unlike most tracks here, ‘Salva Mea’ contains three or four separate peaks, slowing things down before building them up again, creating a Progressive House track designed for the very heart of a DJ set with its highs, but almost unwieldy in its lows. Stretched beyond ten minutes in length, it’s a perfectly sketched narrative arc for an album track while its length allowed for astute edits and cuts when dropped into a club mix alongside Trance and Big Beat artists on the dance floors of ‘90s Europe.. From there we get the slow Dub roll of ‘If Lovin’ You Is Wrong’ with its lascivious lyrics and hints at Blues piano. It’s far from the loving message of the opener or the dancefloor focus of the previous track. ‘Reverence’, at heart, is more of a mixtape than an album; less cohesive, more exploratory and all the better for it as it is followed by the jaunty Gothic Blues ‘Angeline’. While that track opened the flip side, the most familiar track comes in straight after. Recorded as somewhat of an afterthought once the group were already at the stage of programming track order, ‘Insomnia’ was created when they realised they didn’t have an all out dance track for the second half of the album. Decamping to Rollo’s studio in a garden shed, Sister Bliss and Rollo crafted the basic musical arrangement in a day before telling Maxi Jazz the track title. Scribbling down lyrics in under an hour, he recorded his vocals in a take or two the next day. Throwaway as it may have felt at the time, ‘Insomnia’ has gone on to become one of the standout tracks of the 1990s. Like ‘Salva Mea’, the album version is an epic narrative arc that opens with church bells ringing and a clock ticking before Maxi Jazz’s worn vocals step up, “And here we are, half past three in the morning, I can’t get no sleep”. Soon we’re into mid-tempo bass and drums with some synth bubbles before things come crashing down, literally with the sound of crashing, and the first Sci-Fi atmospheres creep in before solid splashing kicks and tight snares join as a bassline bubbles in the background. Well beyond the halfway point of the track the anticipation is still building, less frenetic than ‘Salva Mea’ instead darker, more obscurant. Maxi Jazz’s vocals begin with reference to sex, drugs and lack of sleep in the opening three lines before painting a picture of destitution, though its origin in lack of money or simply through distraction is unclear. Instead, Jazz makes clear he “can’t get no sleep” as a pizzicato synth line erupts into a hands in the air finale that is all too brief in a nine minute vignette like this. The track immediately spoke to a generation of ravers and clubbers who were all too familiar with the sleepless after effects of evenings spent dancing while on a mixture of uppers. With its casual, slow build fitting seamlessly with the mid-tempo Blues, Soul and Trip Hop leaning numbers on ‘Reverence’, the ratcheting up of anticipation, and its fulfilment in the synth explosion towards its end, is a standout moment on the album that helped secure a re-release for the single and its eventual placing as a top three hit. From there is a Dido-penned track ‘Flowerstand Man’ that begins as a ballad before going Trip Hop, and the straight up Hip Hop of ‘Baseball Cap’. Album closer, ‘Drifting Away’, opens with operatic vocals before an Exorcist-like synth line comes in, cold and chilling and backed by a bass-heavy breakbeat. It lacks the peaks and troughs, the loud-quiet-loud, of their pair of hit singles instead opting for a slow creep of unnerving anticipation that is no less effective or affecting. At its heart, ‘Reverence’ is an album that showcases the broad musical palette of a foundling group still finding their sound. In other ways, through its mid-tempo grooves and disregard for pigeonholing with genres, it set Faithless up to wield dynamic as the most powerful of elements. By establishing a knack for restraint and patience, and an appreciation that the highest crescendo requires the longest, most careful build, Faithless created two standout tracks that would help define the sound of club culture in the ‘90s. While ‘Insomnia’ has gone on to be the most recognisable of the cuts here, often sadly in abbreviated radio edited form, it is ‘Salva Mea’ that stands as the true highpoint of ‘Reverence’ with its multiple crests, breakdown for Maxi jazz’s vocals, and elongated arc that fits a giant club track into a more assiduously crafted album. Beyond the massive synth riffs, the creativity and craft to master so many diverse genres and the skill to pull them all together into a cohesive album is Maxi Jazz’s warm, considered, and universal lyrics that spoke to a generation of music fans as one of them; someone who liked to have a good time, knew the harder side of life, and came out of it with an optimism and love that was beguiling. As one of the few key star faces of electronic music in the ‘90s, Maxi Jazz earned his place thanks to his bars on tracks like ‘Salva Mea’ and ‘Insomnia’ where the extended vocal breaks never felt like they were getting in the way of the pay off, even though the anticipation and demand had already been driven so high. Holding listeners with his voice on tracks like ‘Insomnia’, where the music drops out to just a heartbeat bass beat and even the strings fade away, Maxi Jazz helped make ‘Reverence’ a landmark album that combined floorfillers with music for headphones extending the relevance of club music beyond its boundaries and into new decades.