Saturday, 10 November 2018

Faces




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The albums covered here are:-

First Step (1970)
Long Player (1971)
A Nod's As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse (1971)
Ooh La La (1973)
and Five Guys Walk Into A Bar

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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FIRST STEP (1970)

1. Wicked Messenger
2. Devotion
3. Shake, Shudder, Shiver
4. Stone
5. Around The Plynth
6. Flying
7. Pineapple And The Monkey
8. Nobody Knows
9. Looking Out The Window
10. Three Button Hand Me Down                        

From early 1970, this debut album from Ronnies Lane and Wood, Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan and Rod Stewart is a gloriously raw, edgy and beautifully slapdash affair. It sounds as if it were laid down in one whisky addled take. Therein lies its appeal, and indeed the appeal of Faces as a group in  their actually quite short recording career.

The opening cover of Bob Dylan's Wicked Messenger is a marvellous, noisy thrash. No gentle folk rock here - loud, crashing drums, blues guitars up to the max, swirling organ and Rod Stewart's throaty rasp all make a superb concoction.

 

The quiet tones of Devotion give way half way through to some thumping drums and strident, cutting guitar. Shake, Shudder, Shiver makes your speakers do just that. Stewart is n fine form here, sounding similar to on his debut solo album the previous year.

Stone is a folky, fiddle-picking, early Dylan imitation of a song written by Ronnie Lane with him on vocals. Unfortunately, I find his songs a little like Keith Richards ones on Rolling Stones albums - they are ok, but I'd rather have Jagger on vocals, let's be honest. The same is true here - I would rather hear Rod Stewart blasting out some blues rock than this country romp with Lane's undistinguished, trying to ape early Dylan, voice. Sorry to all those who love it. Actually, I am being somewhat harsh, it does have its appeal, but, for me, the Stewart cuts are the better ones.

Around The Plynth is actually rather chaotic, with some madcap slide guitar sounds, thumping percussion and a rudimentary vocal. It sounds like a demo, to be fair. There are some genuine great bits of slide interplay, however, and, as I said earlier, this unpolished sound adds to the appeal. If Led Zeppelin had released this people would have been falling at their feet. In many places, it sounds very Zeppelin-ish.

Flying is classic Faces blues funky rock. A bit hissy, sound-wise in places (despite being remastered), but again, it doesn't really matter - just turn it up. Check out that organ break in the middle. Pineapple And The Monkey, an instrumental, is big, booming and beautifully bassy. It sounds bloomin' great, I have to say.

Nobody Knows is a slightly rambling Stewart/Lane composition/duet. It captures Stewart's voice sounding quite sad at times. Looking Out The Window is a frantic blues rocker and is another instrumental, which, though it is solid, powerful and convincing, with excellent sound quality, does make you wonder if the band were a little short of material at the time. As the album's title suggested, though, it was a "first step". Maybe they viewed it as that and were happy to intermingle vocal cuts with instrumentals, Cream-style. Three Button Hand Me Down is an absolute copper-bottomed Faces classic to close the album. A rocking tribute from Stewart to his other for handing him down a suit. It has a Status Quo style riff, played on acoustic and bass guitars and a killer vocal from Stewart. The guitars throughout the track are exhilarating, as indeed are the organ breaks. It still sounds great today. BBC Radio Newcastle's new wave "Beat Surrender" Saturday evening show regularly play this. I am not surprised. This was Faces at their very best, loud, slightly disorganised and captivating.



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LONG PLAYER (1971)

1. Bad 'N' Ruin
2. Tell Everyone
3. Sweet Lady Mary
4. Richmond
5. Maybe I'm Amazed
6. Had Me A Real Good Time
7. On The Beach
8. I Feel So Good
9. Jerusalem        

The first two Faces albums were appealing raw and edgy, especially in comparison to the "default" Faces album, November 1971 A Nod's As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse. This one is a bit more of a solid album than the slightly patchy First Step (even though there was some brilliance on that album). The sound quality on this remastered version is outstanding too. It is quite a short album, though. It actually only has six songs, two live cuts and one short instrumental. Yes, it is a shambling, somewhat ragged album, but as with the debut one, therein lies its appeal. Despite that, you get the impression that The Faces knew what they were doing. It was a sort of organised chaos. Rod StewartRonnie Wood and Ronnie Lane wrote some great songs in this period, though, something that often gets overlooked.
                              
Bad 'n' Ruin has a lot of Rod Stewart's Gasoline Alley album about it - that down 'n' dirty electric guitar/drums/acoustic guitar interplay and Rod Stewart's rasping, throaty bluesy vocal. He is developing that strange enunciation too, notable in the way he sings "rec-awwg-nise". This was something he would do for many subsequent years. It became as unique as Elton John's strange mid-Atlantic twang and Mick Jagger's odd US accent. Tell Everyone is a big thumping rock ballad, with a massive drum and bass sound, excellent electric guitar and piano. Sweet Lady Mary is classic Faces, although it could very much be classic Rod Stewart, as it would fit very much on to his solo albums from the same period, with its acoustic guitar backing, slide guitar solo and swirling organ. Add to that Stewart's country soul-style vocal and you have a classic Faces/Stewart number.

Richmond is, despite Ronnie Lane's weak voice on it, a great song. He was a far better songwriter and musician than he was a singer. The first live track is a muscular cover of Paul McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed, recorded in New York City. It has a loose, live appeal. A band totally enjoying themselves. Had Me A Real Good Time is typical Faces barroom, rollicking, rousing rock. The Faces at their best. "The skinny girl made it clear that she only came here for the beer....". Great stuff. Excellent saxophone, guitar and drums at the end too.

  

Stewart and the two Ronnies all on vocals on the slightly muffled On The Beach is a bit of a drop in quality compared to the rest of the material. It has echoes of The Rolling StonesCountry Honk about it. The live, extended romp of I Feel So Good  (an old blues classic) is full of spontaneous live atmosphere. The good thing about the inclusion of the two live tracks on here is that it gets over the point that The Faces were every bit the live, gigging band at the time, as much as recording in the studio, if not more. This is what they loved doing and it comes across. Stewart has the audience in the palm of his sweaty hand.

A scratchy acoustic version of Blake's Jerusalem  ends this quirky, rough-edged album. Good as it was, though, the next one would be even better.



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A NOD'S AS GOOD AS A WINK TO A BLIND HORSE (1971)

1. Miss Judy's Farm
2. You're So Rude
3. Love Lives Here
4. Last Orders Please
5. Stay With Me
6. Debris
7. Memphis
8. Too Bad
9. That's All You Need          

After a debut album that was at times inspired, at times raw and edgy, at other times a bit slapdash, and a second album in the same vein, this one was more like the real thing from this lovable bluesy rock group. They had begun to establish their identity now, releasing work in tandem with singer Rod Stewart's solo career, although in many ways the albums were pretty interchangeable. The Faces ones were more rocking, more bluesy and a bit less folky is probably the best way of differentiating them. The remastered sound on this album is excellent too - full, bassy and resonant. It is actually quite an improvement on the rough and ready sound of the First Step album.

Many consider this album to be the "go to" Faces album. It is certainly the most consistently good and has a general feeling of fulfilment about it, of a band on top of their game enjoying themselves.

There is certainly some copper-bottomed, muscular, bassy blues rock on here. The opener, Miss Judy's Farm is a Faces classic, packed full of riffs, heavy bass and a sublime, rasping Stewart vocal. I have never been as big a fan of Ronnie Lane's songs as much as the Rod Stewart-led ones, and on the debut album, I find his ones by far the worst. However, You're So Rude is a really good one - bluesy, rocking and powerful, despite Ronnie's less than robust voice. It is back to Stewart for the melodic but solid ballad, Love Lives Here, which is also an impressive cut.

  

 Last Orders Please is another Ronnie Lane song, and despite my frustrations with his voice, it is another punchy, convincing number. Lane's songs on here are far more rocky and bluesy, far less acoustic and folky as they were on the previous offering, I prefer them for that. Apparently, Lane was growing increasing frustrated at his sharing vocal duties with Stewart. He should have considered himself lucky to have been allowed any at all, as Stewart was many times the superior singer. Ronnie Lane was clearly an excellent guitarist and a wry, often witty and observant lyricist, but, in my view, as a singer he was just not particularly good. Powerful songs like You're So Rude and Last Orders Please would have been twice the songs with Stewart on vocals. I feel bad saying that, but there is a convincing argument for it.

What can I say about the iconic Stay With Me. It is five minutes of Faces perfection - magnificent Ronnie Wood guitar, great drums and piano and one of Stewart's best ever vocals. The buzzy riffage throughout is thoroughly infectious. It is simply a marvellous, uplifting, energetic track. Debris is a Ronnie Lane track, again with a solid backing and some genuinely touching lyrics about his father. It is the best of his three tracks on the album, with some great guitar in the middle. The cover of Chuck Berry's Memphis  is rockingly languid and Stewart's vocal comes over as extremely bright, fresh and quite welcome after Ronnie Lane's low-key offering on the previous track, however moving the song was. There is something inspiring and rousing about The Faces' extended instrumental workouts at the end of songs like this, as on Stay With Me too. They just make you think "Lordy, this is a great album".

Too Bad is The Faces and Rod Stewart at their absolute crashing, Jack Daniels-soaked best and some seriously bluesy slide guitar introduces That's All You Need. Add this album to Stewart's Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells A Story and you have the best of both of them from the early seventies. It didn't get much better than this.



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OOH LA LA (1973)

1. Silicone Grown
2. Cindy Incidentally
3. Flags And Banners
4. My Fault
5. Borstal Boys
6. Fly In The Ointment
7. If I'm On The Late Side
8. Glad And Sorry
9. Just Another Honky
10. Ooh La La

Although this is The Faces' swansong album, coming out eighteen months after their previous one, and the signs of strain are supposed to be all over it, like their Let It Be, I have aways found it a highly enjoyable album.

Silicone Grown is a rocking, typical Faces boogie of an opener, about the subject of breast enhancement, which was not really a de rigeur thing to have done back then. Who doesn't love Cindy Incidentally? It was a great, mid-pace rocking single - great guitars, great lyrics, great Rod Stewart vocals. Faces perfection. "Leave the rent with the gent up in the Penthouse...". I always loved that line. I remember for some reason in March 1973, as a teenager, going to the "Ideal Home Exhibition" with a friend. Why, I don't know. I came back with Cindy Incidentally, however. I am not sure how. Were they selling records at the show? They must have been. I recall it had a lyric sheet in with it for the song (pictured below).

Flags And Banners is a short, plaintively bucolic Ronnie Lane song that just sort of drifts along before we get Rod rocking again on the loose, rough and ready grind of the riffy My FaultBorstal Boys is a rousing, energetic, thumping prison rocker. Again its is full of riffs and another Stewart gritty vocal.

  

Fly In The Ointment is a buzzy, guitar-drive, slightly funky instrumental. If I'm On The Late Side is a short but soulful and melodic number, with an infectious organ swirling around backing it and a convincing Stewart vocal. It has hints of Paul Weller's Broken Stones in it, for me, a lot. Glad And Sorry is one of Ronnie Lane's best Faces songs, with a great bass line, piano and a fetching vocal (for one whose voice I have never gone for). It has a searing guitar solo in the middle from Ronnie Wood too. Just Another Honky is a very typical Rod Stewart song despite being a Ronnie Lane one! It just sounds so much like some of the stuff he wrote for himself later in the seventies. He was obviously influenced by his old mate's writing style. It is a great song, for me, I love the guitar, piano, drum interplay at the end.

So, it was goodbye to The Faces. All that was left was the last classic single in You Can Make Me Dance Sing Or Anything and the last track on this album, Ronnie Wood on rare vocals for the now iconic Ooh La La. It is a delightful, folky, acoustic singalong and provides a suitable au revoir for this good-natured, lovable group. We all missed them. Cheers, lads. Along with Mott The Hoople, they were such a "lads" band, weren't they?



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FIVE GUYS WALK INTO A BAR

  

The best of lead and bass guitarists Ronnies Wood & Lane, drummer Kenney Jones, pianist Ian McLagan and, of course, vocalist Rod Stewart includes their fantastic singles - the monumental Stay With Me; the underrated Cindy Incidentally; the upbeat, rocking Pool Hall Richard and the final, excellent farewell from the band of You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything.There are also bluesy rockers in Bad ‘n’ RuinMiss Judy’s Farm and You’re So Rude. Rather like their contemporaries, Free, there were no pretentions to The Faces whatsoever. Just good time, honest barroom rock with a bluesy edge.

There’s more, The lovely Sweet Lady Mary is very much a Rod Stewart song, as if it could have been from his solo albums from the same period, the folky Ooh La La and Three Button Hand Me Down, about a suit, is just Faces-style rock at its best. They also cover Bob Dylan’s Wicked Messenger.

Too many highlights to go through them all. This compilation really covers this excellent band comprehensively. Just pour yourself a drink and enjoy.



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