The Faces had entirely worked out their formula on their second LP – so, without further thought, they just named it ‘LP’ for short. And that formula? Play whatever you want, however you want and for whatever purpose you want. Long Player is essentially ‘punk for bluesheads’: your typical barroom band guaranteed to give you enough pleasure while you sit and sip at your beer, but – for some perverse reason – elevated to the position of superstars.
Oh well. Perverse, maybe, but not accidental. The biggest problem with this record is that it goes for far too long without being completely adequate: there are, like, maybe two or three minor original ideas on the album, and even when they take somebody else’s idea, they hardly manage to improve on it. Need proof? Just put on track number five, a live rendition of Paul McCartney’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’. It’s actually not bad at all – apart from the fact that Ronnie Lane sings the first verse and he’s got even less of a singing voice than Ronnie Wood. But no amount of piano heroics courtesy of Mr McLagan and even no amount of wailing by Rod Stewart himself are gonna make me prefer this version to the original, simply because a song like ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ isn’t supposed to be played that way. That is, the song is perfectly suited for an arena-rock atmosphere (and it was probably envisaged that way), but it has to be played tight, compact and improvisation-less, just to let the listener catch hold of all the subtle details of the melody. These guys just sound like they had one too many Martinis. ‘Just about warming up and getting into it right about here’, Rod says at the end, and it seems like the absolute truth – problem is, these guys always sounded like they were ‘just about warming up and getting into it right about here’.
Nevertheless, the sheer raw enthusiasm of several of the tracks on here and the Faces’ instrumental prowess do compensate for the bad, ‘distracted’ sides of the record. Ronnie Wood opens the album on a great note, with a sneering, ragged riff that constitutes the meat of ‘Bad ‘N’ Ruin’, and the band rips into one of the best rockers of their career: Stewart’s screams of ‘MOTHER YOU WON’T RECOGNIZE ME NOW!’ will light the inner fire in your soul and wake the sleeping dragon in your heart, if I might use a couple cliched poetic metaphors. (Actually, I hate cliched poetic metaphors; that’s probably why I’m so keen on using them.) And if that’s not enough, ‘Had Me A Real Good Time’, the album’s heaviest and most uncompromised track, is even better, with Kenny Jones kicking away with a nearly John Bonham-ish force and the band reveling in their braggard, raunchy style for all its worth. I, for one, wish Stewart’s powerhouse vocals were a wee bit higher in the mix (which reminds me of a problem – the glorious word ‘shit’ is too melodious an epithet to describe the album’s production), but then again, maybe it’s only for the better: the vocals blend in with the screeching guitars and boogie pianos to form a single, multi-headed monster of a sound. Those who don’t seek anything but innovation in music will probably be horrified, but those who emphasize sincerity and effectiveness will be delighted more than a wolf in sight of a lamb. (Today’s my day for idiotic metaphors, it seems). And to top it all, Stones’ veteran Bobby Keys adds some delightful sax solos in the ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ vein.
Of course, they almost manage to ruin it by including an eight-minute live version of Big Bill Broonzie’s ‘I Feel So Good’, but there are three factors that redeem it: (a) it’s a generic blues cover, and who can resist a great generic blues cover?; (b) the boys play like drunk schizophrenics, which is great fun; (c) Rod totally delights in his functions, especially when he fools around with the audience, urging it to sing along. Hmm. I actually see that out of the three reasons above, only the last one can qualify as a pro argument. Never mind, let’s move on.
The rest of the album is considerably softer – a couple ballads and a couple countryish/folkish ditties. When it comes to ballads (quite funny, that one), it becomes quite clear, at least, to me, what exactly makes a typical folk ballad superate a typical soul ballad. Namely, Lane’s ‘Tell Everyone’ is monotonous, repetitive, simplistic and only highlighted by a sincere enough Stewart vocal delivery, while the entire band’s ‘Sweet Lady Mary’ is a definite highlight of the record: beautiful interplay between acoustic and electric guitars over the background of a swirling, winterish organ is complemented by the most passionate, tender and loving vocals on the entire record. The song is a perfect ballad for your beloved one – just substitute the ‘Mary’ for whoever you want and whoops, you have your serenade ready. Just don’t forget to grab Ronnie Wood along when you head for your beloved one’s windows, as nobody but the man is able to play these delightful slide fills in the instrumental part.
Ronnie Lane contributes two more forgettable tunes – I’ve never been able to really get into the stupid, brain-pounding ‘On The Beach’, and ‘Richmond’ is only slightly better, with some really impressive steel guitar parts. The steel guitar is also resurrected for the album’s big question mark, an instrumental version of the traditional hymn ‘Jerusalem’ that forms the coda to the album; it sounds like Ronnie Wood recorded it in the studio alone, late at night, and secretly pasted it onto the end of the record so that nobody would guess the fact until it was too late. Don’t try to prove I’m wrong.
On the other hand, I feel like I’m getting a bit too harsh. After all, dem Faces are dem Faces, ‘sall. Dem Faces have to be taken like they have to: with all their flaws and misfires. If you accept the Faces’ flaws and misfires as a lawful part of the whole package, you might even understand why the All-Music Guide gave this album a ‘best-of-genre’ rating. But just one small request of you: before you buy this, buy Sticky Fingers. Please. For me.
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.
On their second album Long Player, the Faces truly gel — which isn’t quite the same thing as having the band straighten up and fly right because in many ways this is album is even more ragged than their debut, with tracks that sound like they were recorded through a shoebox thrown up against a couple of haphazardly placed live cuts.
But if the album seems pieced together from a few different sources, the band itself all seems to be coming from the same place, turning into a ferocious rock & roll band who, on their best day, could wrestle the title of greatest rock & roll band away from the Stones.
Certainly, the sheer force of the nine-minute jam on Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good” proves that, but what’s more remarkable is how the band are dovetailing as songwriters, complementing and collaborating with very different styles, to the extent that it’s hard to tell who wrote what; indeed, the ragged, heartbroken “Tell Everyone” sounds like a Stewart original, but it comes from the pen of Ronnie Lane.
The key is that Stewart, Lane and Ron Wood (Ian McLagan only co-write “Bad ‘N’ Ruin”) are all coming from the same place, all celebrating a rock & roll that’s ordinary in subject but not in sound. Take “Bad ‘N’ Ruin,” the tale of a ne’er do well returning home with his tail between his legs, after the city didn’t treat him well. It has its counterpart in “Had Me a Real Good Time,” where a reveler insists that he has to leave, concluding that he was glad to come but also glad to get home.
These are songs that celebrate home, from family to the neighborhood, and that big heart beats strong in the ballads, too, from the aching “Sweet Lady Mary” to the extraordinary reworking of Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which soars in ways Macca’s exceptional original never did. Then, there’s there humor — the ramshackle “On the Beach,” the throwaway lines from Rod on “Had Me a Real Good Time” — which give this a warm, cheerful heart that helps make Long Player a record as big, messy, and wonderful as life itself.