The Faces Box Set!

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Reviewed by Andrew Hamlin.

THE FACES 1970-1975:  YOU CAN MAKE ME DANCE, SING, OR ANYTHING… (Rhino/Warner Bros)

What if God is a hug?

The Faces, fresh for a re-reckoning from both this, a box set of their four (mostly-) studio LPs and a new 2-CD anthology (if you’re broke), Stay With Me—were and amongst the living may well be still, hoary at whoring and groupie-a-ning, unapologetic about wanting the conjugal on their time, their terms.  More than one song’s about kicking someone out of bed in the morning, sorry Luv limo’s ‘ere, how about cab fare back ‘ome eh?  The band’s website features a modified Holiday Inn sign, revolving marquees including “Women Stay Free,” and little sign of pondering more than one parsing those three words.

So, dated, short-sighted and frustrating.  The Faces transcend by their feel.  With sloppy abandon often heavy on the sloppy, they plugged into musical pleasure receptors and made that sound easy, even natural—even as some outtakes hint at mayhem.  (Mayhem for pleasure, perhaps.  Some men fight for fun; some fight to become friends.)

They wrote too many lads-only lyrics.  The music goes for the soul sans gender, the heart, and I think, gets inside.  Reservations and limitations noted, not put aside, they loved life, big-heartedness (not quite the same as love), friendship, trouble, friendship as trouble, high-jinx, and, so long as they had friends to share it, sadness-as-inevitability.  Five discs with them (the box set includes an extra disc of uncollated strays) feels like an afternoon with a friend you knew from the war, one you had worried you’d never see again.  Strong drink and a blazing fire, and a rainstorm washing the windows.  To remind you of that sadness.

I’ve read music heads dismissing First Step as a band “not ready” to record, which made some sense as long as I considered the jamming aimless.  And the instrumental jamming on any Faces title can seem aimless, until you allow for its tastiness, its lack of flash.  Leaving sex-on-demand out of the studio for just these two vinyl sides, Ronnie Lane—who was no Rod Stewart singing, but who satisfies in simplicity—ponders his successive reincarnations for “Stone,” many reversals, many years ago, but he’s found a truth that needs no proof, and “I’ll [of course]drink to that.”  And the implication of more adventures, more lifetimes.  (And Lane, of course, the first one here to die.)  

“Around The Plynth,” Zeppelin’s  “Gallows Pole” with a looser groove and Rod larking so hard he zooms off-mic, forms a diptych with “Flying”; the singer doesn’t know where he was born, or even “probably raised,” but he’s going back there, and we don’t need lyrical precision, only Rod with Ian McLagen’s organ alongside, on “fly-ing” and five other syllables.  They made it sound easy.

Long Player begins where most songs and albums would fade out:  Rod lost, running home to Mother, and apparently ad-libbing his way down trouble’s track.  Vex Rod, as women might, withholding sex and other outrages, he always had Mom, madonna to all those o’ers.  He’s gotten away with something, though–whoops and cries like a catacombed prisoner clawed his way to daylight after decades.  Instrumental gains from the First, consolidated.  Ian McLagen’s organ calls us to church; his piano calls us to the pub.  Ron Wood doesn’t sing much lead, but his acoustic, electric, and slide guitars grow three voices, sometimes with their backs up to McLagen’s keys, twinned banditos taking down a saloon.

And Rod’s shouting to the crowd, sometimes shouting to his bandmates, to sing along, go along, carry on, carry him.  Maybe he was nervous the band wouldn’t finish on its own steam—appropriate fear, since the live “Maybe I’m Amazed” breaks down in the middle then finishes (and then Rod, nervous, keeps singing after everyone else is out).  “Had Me A Real Good Time,” not quite live, also starts-stops-starts, bifucating that midnight saga of one skinny girl.

A Nod Is As Good As A Wink… To A Blind Horse:  The most regimented (by some odd whiskers) of the sets.  Rod giving a lady the house rules over “Stay With Me.”  Sanctioned but still devastating sadness in “Love Lives Here” (sentiment, though not the title, in the past tense).  “Miss Judy’s Farm” sounds to be, until you pull out those lyrics, more working-class middle-finger miscreancy with the dirty thrown in for a laugh—but Miss Judy’s white. Protagonist and friends aren’t. So never forget lyrics.

Compare “Ooh La La” which finishes Ooh La La and the album run. Fine print tells us Rod’s getting “a cheek”—the cold shoulder—from some can-can ladies. Unlike “Farm,” though, that’s superfluous. What matters is the old Granddad who wasn’t heeded until too late. Anyone can argue his crotchety views on women and everyone should. Still, anyone can lament over unheeded advice from elders. Even without the deep-in-the-bone timelessness of that chorus. I screwed it up, shout out the voices of time, and now it’s your turn. Get a fire going. Watch the rain.

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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