Faces: You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything (1970-1975)
(Rhino box set)
There, it’s been said. The Faces were never as good as we all thought they were.
Live, they were sensational, and all the old clichés come pouring out, as though there is something commendable about a band getting drunk before they go on stage, then staggering and swaggering through a dissolute set that no other band on earth could get away with. Because, when you think about it, there is something commendable about it.
Not for the Faces a nicely programmed set, looking really slick, sounding like the records with badly-miked drums. Not for Rod the clarion croak that made his solo routines sound ever so slightly Vegas-y. When the Faces nailed a riff, it got up a few minutes later, and pulled faces at the audience. When they knocked out a song, it weaved across the boards singing “Danny Boy.” And when the mikes came out to record a live show, the career-end Coast to Coast, they fell so flat on their collective faces that even the fans tutted a little. They sounded like they were sober.
There’s a flash of the Faces at their indolent best here, live tracks scattered throughout the five discs which peak with another career-end classic, a live b-side rendition of “I Wish It Would Rain” that might well have been its onstage debut (Rod seems to think so, anyway). But Coast to Coast is not part of this package. Rather, we get four original studio albums, a fifth of singles and b-sides that wrap up the Greatest Hits disc the band never released, and another CD’s worth of out-takes, BBC sessions, live cuts and rehearsals, scattered around the regular LPs.
It’s patchy. Brilliant, but patchy. The first album caught the Faces still finding their feet as a unit, with songs that feel like jams, and jams that feel like jelly. “Around the Plynth,” “Three Button Hand Me Down” and “Flying” are probably The First Step’s highlights, but really, any of the ten songs could be considered representative, while the bonus tracks add nothing more than a glorious trundle through “Mona,” which might be the best track in sight.
Long Player gets better. That stellar version of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” Ronnie Lane’s “Tell Everyone,” and the band-defining “Had Me A Real Good Time” - those are the moments when the Faces touched gold, and every other band of the age touched cloth. If this was how great they were when they were pissed, what would happen if… if they got more pissed?
A Nod is as Good as a Wink… to a Blind Horse was the answer. The hit “Stay With Me” and another Lane jewel, the heartstopping “Debris,” an all-time best take on Chuck Berry’s “Memphis”… and those three fall one after the other, bang bang bang, in the running order. The rest of the album comes as close to Christmas to being as great as its highlights, and the only thing that might have improved it would have been a studio version of the “Live With Me” that pops up among the Long Player bonus tracks. Here we just get a couple of tracks from a period BBC session, but “Stay With Me” is one of them, and if there’s a better description of a tawdry one-night-stand, then the Faces didn’t save the tape.
Ooh La La was the band on its last legs, without really being aware of it. In fighting structured around Stewart’s burgeoning solo stardom, Ronnie Lane’s disgruntlement, a general songwriting block - mirroring the debut album, Ooh La La feels sloppy and unfinished, a few good ideas but a lot of blather round the sharp bits. But the title track is a treasure that is worth the cost of admission, and “Cindy Incidentally” was the next in that line of great Faces 45s that began with “Stay With Me,” and which bleeds over to the fifth disc in the form of “Poolhall Richard” and “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything.”
Again, you wonder how a band that could make records like those could even be bothered to turn out some of that other stuff. Stewart sounds happy, rambunctious, exuberant… not quite for the last time in his singing career, but the more mannered style he developed with Atlantic Crossing did cut back on the high octane fun. The band is playing like they mean it, falling apart and loving every misstep, and when you flipped the singles, too (the b-sides are all here as well), “Skewiff,” “As Long As You Tell Him” and that aforementioned “I Wish It Would Rain (with a trumpet)” are just as magnificent.
Letting the side down a little, a fairly utilitarian booklet fills out the box, and the artwork’s a shade dull as well. The album sleeves are unadorned cardboard, so pick up some plastic CD inners if you can, and no more than the most basic stab at reproducing the original covers has been made. So no fun and games with the Ooh La La sleeve.
But just about every studio note released by the band, bar the extras that packed out the Five GuysWalk Into a Bar box set make this one of the landmark reissues of the year so far. And, though the Faces still were never as good as we thought they were, a lot of the time they were even better.