It is said somewhere that 1960s were “We” decade and 1970s were “Me” decade. It is easy understand why. Many rock musicians that were contributing to various bands in 1960s, started respectable solo careers: Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, Neil Young, members of The Beatles. There were also huge ego clashes. Remember Lennon-McCartney-Harrison feud, then temporary break up of CSNY in 1970, arguing between Simon and Garfunkel. Showing off became more important than music. And yet one band kept rock and roll spirit alive.
They had a special relationship with their fans. And what is the most important, all the best of 1960s remained intact in their music. They were The Faces: funny and charming Ronnie Wood, already brilliant vocalist but still not so Hollywoodified Rod Stewart, still healthy and a bit introspective Ronnie Lane, very soulful keyboard player Ian MacLagan and powerful drummer Kenney Jones. They had a strong sense of togetherness, carefree attitude, and plenty of good, funky songs about everyday life.
They never tried to be too smart, conceptualistic or enigmatic, they were always honest and friendly. Their riffs were powerful as the ones of The Stones, but not so nihilistic and always friendly, as they say: “Welcome to the party”. They were all skilled musicians, played easily, but were addicted to pubs, bars, and good time. No wonder their records were warm, charming, very accessible, simple, but somehow imperfect.
By 1973, Rod Stewart became superstar, and The Faces had one hit, “Stay With Me”. Stewart’s records were million selling, yet The Faces’ ones were not. They just opened the doors of stardom with 1971 “A Nod Is Good as Wink…To a Blind Horse”, so they needed one more hit record to cement the position. And they almost did it.
“Ooh La La” is by far their most serious and introspective record. Of course, it is friendly, filled with riffs, good time, but the folky songs penned mainly by Ronnie Lane steal the show. But this is why the record initially perplexed the audience. Immediately after the release it was panned by critics and, believe it or not, Rod Stewart himself. “Ooh La La” contains, for the band, unusually high quantity of sadness, suspicion and nostalgia. The party is still here but, there are questions “where do we go” in the air.
As Ronnie Lane would say and Ronnie Wood would sing in the title track: “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” There are quiet meditations about love on “Glad and Sorry” and “If I’m On The Late Side”. And there is also a potent dose of roaring rockers, listen to “Borstal Boys”, “Silicone Grown” and “My Fault”, but compared their only hit single, “Stay With Me”, they didn’t have so energizing and recognizable riff (to be honest, very, very few songs have so powerful riff as “Stay With Me”). Maybe that is the reason why was the record misunderstood. Everyone expected “Stay With Me” all over again, but they got something different, gentle and quiet.
Its quietness and folkiness aside, “Ooh La La” has its flaws. First, instrumental “Fly in the Ointment” is a limp, and it is very evident because it is placed between two jewels, after “Borstal Boys” and before “If I’m on the Late Side”. The second, album is barely 30 minutes long. Of course, other 9 songs are at least very good, but it is too short. Another problem was Rod Stewart.
Unfortunately he began acting like a superstar. He missed the initial recording sessions, leaving up to the rest of the guys to do the job. It is audible that his singing could be better, in terms of interpretation. Given that he panned it after the albums release, it was clear that he wanted to do a solo career, rather than to be in the band. It is ironic that “Ooh La La” is maybe the last truly great record he had something to do with
Hey, not all that bad if you consider that most consumers will fork over for a Faces album with rather low preliminary expectations: Two or at most three tracks will usually soak up the energy and style of the tunes that grace the records of Rodney himself, the sandy catarrh, a jaunty and rocking swing, the insouciant lip that he lays on his lovers and his listeners.
Everybody knows that the other seven cuts are not gonna amount to much — even if they give Rod a third or a quarter compositional credit just to fatten up the sheep, not enough is gonna be happening with master Ronnie Lane’s tenuous tonsilisms. At least that’s the way it’s gone before.
Ooh La La however is more than an excuse to keep three cute journeyman popsters off the dole and behind Rodney and guitarist Ron (“Everything Sounds the Same”) Wood. Only three of the ten tracks are candidates for the poop chute and the rest alternately rock real hard or are fine vehicles for Rod’s mellower and subtler vocal talents. What a surprise. And more, what a relief …
“Silicone Grown” has that nice and fiery tone Woodsy gets out of his axe, a tasty rockish flavor and words that I can’t quite make out the content of, but judging from the title you’d think that they’d have something to do with tits, wouldn’t you? “Cindy Incidentally” comes next and has that old lurching and slightly crapulated feeling that Rod does so well by, something like “Mama You Been on My Mind.” Stewart and Lane collaborated on “Flags And Banners”; Lane sings and it doesn’t come off too hot.
A beautifully soulful Stewart vocal rehabilitates “My Fault” from probable torpor if anyone else had done it. “Borstal Boys” is as good a hard-rock number as Rod as ever dealt with; Borstal — reform school in Britain — is no picnic and the tune reflects the loathing that folks have for it, as well as the tough glamour that the word projects.
The second side starts with an interesting, if not gland-opening, instrumental by Jones – McLagen – Wood – Lane, then gets into a pair of handsome and gentle songs on which Stewart excels, the smoky “If I’m on the Late Side” and especially Ronnie Lane’s “Just Another Honky,” a self-conscious musicians’ lament which Rod delivers as well as any song on his own albums. It’s a smart tune that cancels out the doldrums of “Glad And Sorry” and the title tune, which shamefully falls on its Face; any song about the old-time boulevardier spirit oughtta move, but this sounds like thumb-sucking to me.
In any case seven out of ten is better than average for this bunch, good enough to rate as a solid pop record, although I might consider “Borstal Boys” alone worth the price. It’s strong.
This was the Faces’ fourth and last studio album, and there’s not even a single sign of artistic growth or anything like that. Like, you know, it’s just a standard Faces record: a bunch of clumsy, erratic, homemade rockers and a bunch of similar-style ballads, and all of this sounds as if they wrote, arranged, recorded and produced the whole record in a pub between endless mugs ‘o beer and more serious stuff. No drugs, though. Definitely no signs of drug addiction here. Just booze.
Personally, I would prefer listening to contemporary Rod Stewart albums – they’re just a wee bit more sensitive, and certainly more carefully arranged. On Ooh La La, you’ll never find no pretty mandolins or weird congo beats, and, what’s more important, you won’t find such a diversity of style or such heartfelt confessions as can be found on the best Stewart albums. On the other hand, one thing that can be said in favour of the Faces is that this album rocks the house down. Well, at least in parts. The record seems to be strangely divided into a ‘harder’ and a ‘softer’ side (a trick that Stewart later employed on his post-Wood solo albums, though with far lesser efficiency), and the first side boogies along with much more crunch than ninety-nie percent of anything Rod ever recorded solo: from the ridiculous, exciting power chords of ‘Silicone Grown’ to the aggressive thunderstorm of ‘Borstal Boys’, you’re just gonna get it.
However, it is not the hard rock of the Zeppelin-ish type, nor is it hard rock of the Stones-ish type. The Faces, and their notorious guitarist Ronnie Wood in particular, were far worse trained to match the technical precision of Led Zep, and they were far less inspired songwriters to ever hope to match the impeccable riffs of Keith Richards. Instead, they just put their hopes on spontaneity – you know, stuff a riff here, cross it with another riff there, deafen the audience by booming, crashing drums (Kenney Jones shines throughout, particularly on ‘Borstal Boys’), toss off a smutty lyric now and then, and boogie on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the question here is really whether you might enjoy music made-on-the-spot or prefer a more accurate approach to songwriting. Me, I have nothing against both approaches, so I’m just as happy with Ooh La La as with my trusty Sticky Fingers.
No, no, of course, I’m joking. How could you ever believe that I’m really able to throw these two together? Sticky Fingers is, and will always be, an absolute classic, a cult favourite, while Ooh La La is just a stupid throwaway. But it is an exciting throwaway, at least. First of all, the boys really give it their all: Rod Stewart shouts at the top of his lungs, Ronnie neglects careful playing in favour of loudness, aggression, and distortion on some tracks and in favour of simplistic, but catchy riffing on the others, and Kenney thumps and bashes just as well as Mick Waller thumped and bashed on Stewart solo albums. And Ian McLagan adds some delicious boogie piano chords in the best traditions of Ian Stewart. Anyway, the first side here is all a massive load of fun. ‘Silicone Grown’ tackles delicate matters of teenage pregnancy and, well, silicone, and the driving guitar is so powerful and enthralling that you end up not noticing the song’s total lack of melody.
Then there’s the folk-rocker ‘Cindy Incidentally’ where the guys innocently steal the melody of Dylan’s ‘I Don’t Believe You’. Which actually means that you could be angry at them for ripping off Dylan, but which also means the song is thoroughly enjoyable. Just forget the insincere ‘Wood/Stewart/McLagan’ credits and pretend they’re doing a cover of Dylan, and things will be all right: we all know, don’t we, that Rod Stewart is one of the best Dylan imitators? ‘Flags And Banners’ is somewhat short and strangely confessional. It’s also sung by Ronnie Lane, but that’s okay, he doesn’t ruin this particular number, their most Byrds-ey tune on the album. ‘My Fault’ has an amusing, chugging melody emphasized by Kenney’s war-style drumming, and do not forget, repeat, do not forget, that the song contains the lines that pretty much summarize the entire Faces career: ‘If I have to fall on my head/Every night on the week/It’s gonna be my fault, no one else’.
Of course, the honour of being the fastest, the most pumpin’, most energetic, aggressive, spit-fire garage rocker on the album falls to the Faces’ copyright version of ‘Jailhouse Rock’, the wonderful ‘Borstal Boys’. Lyrically, it’s somewhat more philosophic and certainly much more social-critique-oriented than ‘Jailhouse Rock’, but who cares? Again, where’s the melody? The verses start out fine, in the finest R’n’B traditions, but the refrain sounds as if Rod just keeps forgetting the words and stutters every bit of nonsense (‘call out your number, who’s a nonconformer, not me babe’) that gets into his head. But why worry when this is some of the best chemistry that good ol’-style rock’n’roll can present you? A rip-off it is, but I wish modern bands could make a rip-off that good.
Now the second side is just not that interesting for me. Apart from one hard-rock instrumental, the pointless ‘Fly In The Ointment’ (starts off fine, with a naggin’ little riff and some good guitarwork, but soon becomes an unbearable noisy mess), it’s all stuffed with Ronnie Lane ballads which are probably okay, but not special. At least the ‘hard’ side is saved by the boys’ drunken, heated-up energy level: these ballads don’t seem to preserve the energy (well, ballads aren’t supposed to, are they), but they don’t compensate with beautiful melodies, either. Okay, ‘If I’m On The Late Side’ at least has some touching lyrics, and there’s a beat that’s supposed to remind us of similar (and superior) Stewart efforts, but ‘Glad And Sorry’ just plain sucks, a bunch of sentimental piano chords backed with feeble vocals. And, of course, there’s the famous title track where Lane tells us about his women problems: it’s good, and I suppose it can even be moving, in a rather perverse way, but a classic it ain’t, just because the melody is so raw and plain unelaborated.
In fact, after listening to this record it’s easy to understand why the Faces seem to have been completely forgotten over the years. It’s good, but it’s so inessential and unsubstantial that I don’t see anybody but crazy collectors (like your humble servant) rushing out fists first to buy it. And yet, there is some definite charm here which can’t be replicated on any other record. Admit it – what other band is able to achieve so much with so few? And don’t forget that, even though most of the (hell, all of the) Rolling Stones Seventies’ albums are superior to this, Ooh La La is at least not just a piece of product – like It’s Only Rock’n’Roll or Some Girls.
It all comes straight from the heart of your average snotty rock’n’roll guy. And man! What am I talking about? It has Rod Stewart singing on it and Ronnie Wood playing on it! Go out, get out of your cozy chair and buy this, buy this now before it goes out of print and into the archives!