As Christmas approaches, the chill-out compilation seems more ubiquitous than ever. CDs dripping with aural Radox are flying off the shelves. Record companies have discovered they can sell club culture to mid-30s couples who would never dream of setting foot in the Ministry of Sound.
But as their dressed-down, decidedly unclubby audience in Liverpool proves, Faithless, the London collective of DJs, producers and musicians, have known that for years.
No hip DJ would dream of playing Faithless's records, but live, their appeal becomes obvious. Their brand of house music has exactly the same dynamics as stadium rock, with melodramatic peaks and troughs, endless drum rolls and synthesised clarion calls. When they perform their hit singles Insomnia and We Come One, they are the Simple Minds of dance music: their sound is huge, crowd-pleasing and defiantly unsubtle. It is also hollow, aloof and icy. It sacrifices emotion in favour of bombast.
Occasionally, and perhaps unwittingly, Faithless can turn this emptiness to their advantage. No track has ever captured the meaningless euphoria of club culture as perfectly as God Is a DJ, which sets wildly overblown religious imagery and vacuous self-help psychobabble to pounding trance. The problem is that Faithless seem to take the song very, very seriously.
Spotlights and strobes strafe the stage portentously. Rapper Maxi Jazz adopts a crucifix pose and sombrely intones: "This is my church, this is where I heal my hurts," as if he is passing on the wisdom of Solomon.
It may be humourless, but at least God Is a DJ is striking. When Faithless allow the tempo to drop, things go awry. Dirty Ol' Man and Not Enuff Love are pallid exercises in trip-hop. The breakbeats, dub-reggae basslines and soul-influenced female vocals trundle along inoffensively, forcing the spotlight on Maxi Jazz's rapping. Unfortunately, his vocals are turned into sludge by the sound system, leaving nothing to hold the attention. The audience dance away regardless. This is undemanding background music, and as those legions of chill-out albums prove, undemanding background music is precisely what people want to hear.
· Faithless play the Birmingham Academy (0121-262 3000) tonight, then tour.