Being one of the few English bands left willing (nay, all too happy) to flaunt their Englishness, and moreover ranking no lower than third on the current faverave list of such heavy critics as John Mendelsohn, Faces should be just a shout away from becoming very enormous indeed, and, in the opinion of such heavy critics as John Mendelsohn, perhaps saving rock and roll from taking itself seriously to death in the process. In view of which we all have reason to be a trifle disappointed with Faces’ new Long Player, for, consistently good casual fun and occasionally splendid though it may be, it’s by no stretch of the imagination going to save anybody’s soul (as an album by someone very enormous indeed ought) or even rescue the FM airwaves from the clutches of such increasingly cloying items as Elton John.
Simply, Faces seem to lack a clearly-defined sense of direction. Since the departure of the incredible Steve Marriott, they have been unable (or indisposed) to create more of the magic and wonderful R&B-derived English fantasy-rock like that on Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake; consequently, they are obliged (or disposed) to look, aside from infrequent contributions in the grand old style by bassist Ronnie Lane, to late additions Ron Wood and that chap with the haystack haircut for direction. Wood, most frequently fancying pleasant, if dispensable, bottleneck-laden variations on De Blooze, is not the Face to provide that direction. And his friend with the haystack haircut doesn’t seem nearly so intent on so providing as deferring to the other chaps’ tastes for purposes of saving the group from becoming Rod Stewart (with Faces). But so intimidating is Stewart’s presence apparently (in what should, of course, but hasn’t thus far, been a mutually beneficial way) that the other chaps are all too eager to defer to Stewart’s tastes. The present result being that, instead of getting both Faces albums and Stewart albums, Long Player being nothing more than a grab-bag of tidbits good enough only to tide us over until Stewart’s third “solo” album.
Thus, the undisputed star cut on Player is that one on which Rod and the band work most distinctly in the same relation to one another as on his solo albums, with his voice and words commanding most of the attention. Leaving the matter of Faces’ current inability to be more than Stewart’s back-up band aside for a moment, what a cut it is!, it comprising an immediately attractive Wood tune, lovely Garth Hudson-ish organ by Ian McLagan, a beautiful pedal steel guitar solo, and magnificent Stewart singing and lyrics about becoming resigned to irreconcilability with a former lover:
Her Spanish habits are so hard to forget
The lady lied with every breath, I accept
It was a matter of time before my face did not fit
I knew all along I’d have to quit
Anyway I’d better not waste any more of your time
I’ll just steal away
Dig here and elsewhere his use of images from American geography, like: “I think I’ll go back home and start all over again/Where the Gulf-stream waters tend to ease the pain.”
In the same vein but somehow lacking “Sweet Lady Mary”‘s charisma is “Tell Everyone,” a gospel-style ballad with occasionally superb Stewart words (that deal with what for him is an infrequent theme, a two-sided working love affair) and very nice guitar ornamentation from Wood.
But for the horrendous production, Lane’s “On The Beach,” a delightful tale about a young fellow who succeeds in hustling a beach honey in spite of his emaciation, would be a worthy successor to The First Step’s “Three Button Hand-Me-Down” as a great Faces drinking song. On his other entry, “Richmond,” the tiny bass-thumper delivers an unutterably charming shy vocal, but the track has an unfinished feel about it owing to an insufficiently developed arrangement.
“Bad ‘N’ Ruin” and “Had Me A Real Good Time” both rely a little too heavily on Larry Williams-ish riffs and Stax-ish rhythmic insistence and as a consequence wear poorly, impressing as rather tedious and perhaps even a trifle leaden by about tenth hearing. I personally am of the mind that both are insufficiently frenzied — both give the impression of intending to blow the roof off, but if so why do Faces jog when they should be sprinting in terms of tempo? Marriott, superman that he is, could have pulled it off at these relatively sedate speeds (the dubious are encouraged to examine many of the tracks on the last Small Faces album. The Autumn Stone, which just might be the definitive English rock and roll album). Stewart, whose voice (and range of expression) become increasingly thin when he pushes too hard, cannot.
The two live cuts, “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Feel So Good,” both compare less than terrifically well with the unspeakably dynamite live stuff on Autumn Stone (not to worry the point to death, but to emphasize that the work of Faces when they were The Small richly deserves your attention). On the former the group is content to faithfully recite the original arrangement, which act, in these dark days of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Keith Emerson, and every last punk teenage garage band having its Own Original Approach, is awfully refreshing. Here a monstro climax seems to be forewarned by the group’s stopping three-quarters of the way through only to pick up again, but it thankfully never materializes.
As for “Feel So Good,” its presence on the album indicates either that Faces are having trouble finding material or that they’ve got a wide self-indulgent streak, ’cause this here is almost nine minutes of stupifying bellowed De Blooze which, however good it made the live audience that had the pleasure of watching them swagger all over the stage and embracing one another like long-separated lovers in their characteristic way as they were playing it feel, it makes the listener feel bored and annoyed after about 30 seconds of appreciative amusement. Not only does Rod scream the ultimate wrong on-stage question, “Are you with me?” not once, but four times, but it’s also a shabby recording, with mostly only the crash cymbal audible from Kenny Jones’ drumkit.
OK, a couple of incidental comments that will hopefully put my feelings about this album and Faces Small and otherwise into some vague semblance of perspective: Magnificent musically (extra-musically he’s always magnificent) as he is most of the time, Stewart is not quite a match for the memory of Steve Marriott in the context of this particular band — it was definitely a major tragedy in the rock and roll cosmos when Marriott left Lane, Jones, and McLagan to join Humble Pie, who are notable only in their amazing ability to remain deathly horrid even with him in the group. Buy yourself Long Player for “Sweet Lady Mary” if you simply can’t wait for the forthcoming Rod Stewart album, but doncha dare go calling yourself a Faces fan on the strength of LP if you haven’t first experienced the unsurpassable ecstasy of The Autumn Stone.