Saturday, June 6, 2009

F - The Faces - "A Nod is as Good as a a Blind Horse"

It may be difficult to believe, but, between 1970 & 1972, Rod Stewart was the undisputed King of Rock and Roll. During those years, he was on major roll. After being fired from the Jeff Beck Group in 1969 & releasing a so-so debut record, he proceeded to record 3 killer solo albums, while simultaneously fronting the Faces (previously the Small Faces (they were all about 5’6”) until they hired a new, much taller singer & guitar player), and releasing 3 albums with them – all within 3 years.

The Small Faces had been a hot R&B band that evolved into whimsical mild psychedelia after taking lots and lots of acid. But by the time Rod and Ronnie Wood joined, it was booze, booze, and lots more booze. All 4 of their records have this great shambolic groove that propels you to get up and move; their 2 later records also provide songs to go along with the groove. There’s way too much jamming on the Faces’ first 2 records, but the sound is there.

This record (their 3rd) combines the groove, the songs, & the booze into a great mixture. I really like this album – the way the extremely dirty tone of the guitars spill into the clomping bass which is pounded down with Hammond organ, while the drums lurch into a beat. And there’s Rod hollering over the whole mess with that awesome whisky voice that screams “someone get me a lozenge. PLEASE.” The Faces, for better or worse, were a GROUP, sharing songwriting, and with bassist Ronnie Lane (whose voice and appearance can charitably be described as “homely”) taking a few of the lead vocals. With the exception of the despairing “Love Lies Here”, Rod is totally cock of the walk here; there’s not much of the raw emotion he poured into his solo albums. That’s not to put down his vocals - I’m guessing he saw the Faces as a way to blow off steam with the boys, get his hair all mussed up, and have a blast. And boy, do they ever.

Years before he relegated himself to be Keith Richard’s coked out sidekick in the Stones, Ronnie Wood developed a sloppy but unique guitar style that propels the songs, yet seem to be everywhere but on the beat. His guitar and Ian McLagan’s organ are just as important to this record as Rod’s vocals. Equally important are Ronnie Lane’s songs; he sings lead on 3; 2 of them (“You’re So Rude” & “Debris”) are 2 of the best songs of the record. But the big hit here is “Stay with Me”, which has got to be the most mean spirited nasty song to hit the top 10, but its done with a leer and a laugh, plus the way the tempos keep changing & solos keep popping in where you don’t expect them gives the impression of a band on the verge of collapsing in a drunken pile without the crap sound such a band would undoubtedly make. If the Faces were really wasted while they were playing, they played better than most bands did sober.

Like all the Faces’ records, there’s a few throways mixed in: jams instead of songs. Their cover of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” is the worst offender. It may have sounded great as an encore after a 2 hour show, but here it just sounds tired. Compare this to the Faces’ fiery version of the Temptations’ “I’m Losing you” on Rod’s “Every Picture Tells a Story”, and it really makes this cover version disposable.

That said, I dare you to drop the needle on “Miss Judy’s Farm”, the first song on the record, and not instantly GET the Faces. It’s a shame that within 3 years of this album, the band was pretty much dissolved, with Rod quickly becoming a poncing joke & the biggest waste of talent on the planet. But at least here, you can remember when Rod was God. Surrounded by drunken midgets.

Verdict: 120 proof goodness.

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