This five-disc set shines a properly deserved light on one of rock and roll's greatest and most versatile bands.
The past few years have seen a rush of praise and newfound appreciation for the Faces, the influential English rock 'n' roll band, famous for featuring both a pre-fame Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. Their songs have popped up frequently in television advertisements and movie scores, original members have appeared to play at a few one-off gigs, and in 2012, the band received their proper due with an induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.
Originally conceived as the Small Faces, the band cut their teeth on the British mod scene, playing a loose collection of skiffle and R&B-inflected numbers that served as an early template for the ensuing British Invasion scene. After lead singer Steve Marriott left to join Humble Pie, the remaining members -- bassist Ronnie Lane, keyboardist Ian McLagan, and drummer Kenney Jones -- turned to Wood to fill guitar duties and Stewart to facilitate lead vocals. What started out as a rather loose and rollicking collective quickly turned into a rock 'n' roll force. The Faces turned out memorable hits like “Cindy Incidentally”, “Had Me a Real Good Time”, and “Stay With Me”, all of which charted high and became classic rock radio staples. Furthermore, their blistering musicianship and natural interplay came across well in a live setting which allowed the band to make a healthy living touring packed venues around the world. The Faces had the chops and the material to become worldwide superstars, but after a couple of years in the driver’s seat, other endeavors pulled the various members their separate ways and into different chapters of the rock 'n' roll history books.
1970-1975: You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, or Anything is the rather clunky name of both the band’s final, disco-tinged 1975 single and the new box set collection consisting of their four studio albums plus an extra set of rare material. By ’75, the band was shuffled out. Lane had already departed in 1973, Wood had joined up with the Rolling Stones, and Stewart was in the midst of achieving personal pop stardom. Marriott attempted to carry the torch, reuniting with McLagan and Jones to record two additional albums of material under the resurrected Small Faces moniker, but it was a short lived charge. By 1978, they too, were finished, thus leaving the Faces behind in a cloud of record geek obscurity for the next few decades. As the band’s profile has again been raised, now seems to be a proper time to bring forth the original material and this remastered collection serves as essentially the complete body of the Faces’ oeuvre.
While diehard fans and collectors will savor the ability to consume each individual album, there’s reason for even casual observers or those new to the story of the Faces to dig in and explore, as well. The set moves chronologically through the catalog and while listening, it’s easy to observe the band gelling and soaring with confidence, cohesiveness, and clarity. The debut album, First Step is notable for its’ lead track, a swaying, swaggering version of Bob Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger” and “Flying”, a mid-album slow-burner that expertly showcases the interplay between Wood’s guitar, McLagan’s organ, and Stewart’s howling vocals. However, the album also features a couple good exhibitions of boozy, bar-band rock, banjo-tinged country shuffle, and some free-form jamming that displayed the versatility of the musicians involved. It wasn’t a hit at the time, but the wheels were in motion.
A year later came the release of Long Player which heightened and fleshed out and elevated the established sound but augmented it by including some horn sections, liberal use of slide guitar, and greater percussion fills. Lead track “Big N’ Ruin” blazes hot out of the gates, “Sweet Lady Mary” takes the congregation to church, and they again put their personal stamp on another’s material by covering Paul McCartney’s then-recent smash hit, “Maybe I’m Amazed”, recrafting it as a back-and-forth vocal number between Lane and Stewart. This remastered version also comes highlighted with two bonus live tracks, ace covers of “Too Much Woman (For a Henpecked Man)” and “Love in Vain” recorded during shows at New York’s famous Fillmore East in November 1970, a few months prior to the album’s release.
Later in 1971 came the The Faces’ third album, A Nod Is as Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse. Ultimately proving to be their highest charting album, it features the aforementioned “Stay With Me”, the vamped up paean to a one-night stand that has stood the test of time as the band’s signature song. The lustful and carnal mood expressed on that track shows up frequently throughout the album’s nine tracks, revealing itself playfully and loosely on “You’re So Rude”, “Too Bad” and the Chuck Berry cover of “Memphis, Tennessee”. The album isn’t without its reflective moments though, as “Love Lives Here” and “Debris” serve as some of rock music’s most perfectly wistful ruminations. Again, the band’s versatility allowed them the opportunity to move the tempo and volume needles up and down flawlessly.
The collection’s fourth album, 1973’s Ooh La La closes the book on this lineup’s proper studio releases and also comes across a bit more haphazardly than the previous offerings. The title track, “Glad and Sorry”, and “Cindy Incidentally” stand forth as keepers and “If I’m On the Late Side” sneakily shines through memorably about halfway through. At this point in time, though, Stewart’s solo success had marginalized the contributions of the other members, causing friction, distance, and hurt feelings. It’s not difficult to hear this coming through in the music as the resulting sounds feel a little more restrained and professionally stilted than they had before. The bar was set high, however, so as a whole the album still sounds great and holds up well. The sheer power of the first three releases simply casts the fourth in a slightly lesser light.
The fifth disc is all bonus material of live, alternate, and unreleased material. It features some interesting odds and ends, but overall serves more as an archivist’s find. The bonus material that caps off each individual proper album resonates stronger, and the source recordings are what will keep listeners returning for repeated listens. Again, the importance, craftsmanship, and legacy of the Faces cannot be overstated. When Ian McLagan sadly succumbed to a stroke last year, the outpouring of tributes came from countless musicians and artists across many different musical genres. It was little wonder as his generosity and good-nature kept him extremely busy playing on others’ albums and live shows frequently over the course of his post-Faces career. This joyful spirit and bountiful energy lives on through these releases. The Faces had it captured for this represented five-year period and regardless of what came next, this is material that has, and will continue to stand the test of time.