Faces

The gaudiest Earth, Wind and Fire album to date, Faces is an effervescent pop-funk pageant with lots of color and not much substance. None of its fifteen songs is as striking as "That's the Way of the World," "After the Love Is Gone," "Boogie Wonderland" or "September" —cuts whose hooks helped focus the group's diffuse, cosmological cheeriness.

Faces addresses cosmic and social concerns, but its thinking is only Madison Avenue deep: e.g., when Joseph Worken Hardy (the name of the black everyman in "Let Me Talk") ends his complaints about the Arabs, inflation and designer jeans with the observation "We're all the same, with different names."

What holds this double LP together isn't tunes or ideas but a collective élan and Maurice White's sparkling production, which runs the gamut from Sly Stone funk ("Pride") to aural collage ("Faces") to Bee Gees-influenced pop romanticism ("Sparkle," "You"). The common denominator of White's productions is their highly contrasted textures and boldly blocked arrangements, with brass and percussion every bit as important as the singing.

However impersonal, sprawling and weak at the seams Faces is, at least it coheres as a "happening," resplendent with fireworks and pep-rally vibes.