The Faces

Five Guys Walk Into A Bar (Warner Bros. ’04) Rating: A
When their great vocalist Steve Marriott left The Small Faces to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, the remaining three members hooked up with former Jeff Beck Group alumni Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart, renaming the band The Faces in deference to their new members height. Unfortunately, despite containing awesome talent, on the bands four studio albums they didn’t consistently capture the magic of their legendary live shows. Enter Five Guys Walk Into A Bar, a box set that basically doubles the band's overall output and finally shows everybody how great this band of loveable drunks really were.

Indeed, live rarities like "I Can Feel The Fire," "Around The Plynth/Gasoline Alley", “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want To Discuss It),” "Cut Across Shorty," "Flying," and "Bad 'N' Ruin" jump out, as do previously unreleased cover songs such as John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," Willie Dixon's "Evil," Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed," Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind," Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel,” The Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain," Free's "The Stealer," Big Bill Broozy’s “I Feel So Good,” and Luther Ingram's "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right." For those of you who have forgotten, Rod Stewart was once a great, soulful, completely original rock 'n' soul singer, and one listen to that last song will instantly remove any doubts and misconceptions.

But though Rod was the star attraction, a fact that caused the band's dissolution once his solo career started becoming a higher priority than the band, the rest of The Faces were anything but slouches. Although he's been on cruise control with The Rolling Stones for almost 40 years now, in the early '70s (The Faces were officially together from 1969-1975) Ronnie Wood was a vibrant guitar player whose slashing riffs and sympathetic acoustic tones always exhibited impeccable taste and a sense of style. He was also a key songwriter, often in tandem with Rod or the band's other primary songwriting talent, Ronnie Lane, whose honest, from-the-heart compositions, "Debris," "I Came Looking For You," "Last Orders Please," "Glad And Sorry," "Richmond," “Flags and Banners,” and “You’re So Rude” among them, offered a more sensitive counterpoint to the surrounding good time fare, though Lane's unsteady warble was certainly no match for Stewart's soulful rasp. Rounding out the lineup was drummer Kenney Jones, who later proved a poor fit with The Who but who carried this band's recklessly raw rockers perfectly, and Ian McLagan, who oversaw this set and whose tasty piano work and riotous keyboard runs all but oozed bubbly pub room fun.

Although I generally like such sets to be arranged chronologically, McLagan's explanation for not doing so makes perfect sense: "that's not how we'd have organized a set list for a show or a running order for an album...this running order gives me chills." As per most box sets, there's some song duplication, but not enough to really be worrisome, and as for the music, well, I'll quote from some musicians The Faces influenced who provide testimonials in the album's booklet, which also features an informative essay from Rolling Stone's David Fricke and a defense of The Faces' "sloppiness" from Faces photographer Tom Wright: "The Faces drank, no doubt about it, but to the point of sloppiness? Show me the moment...The Faces were so good they made it look easy."

Wilco's Jeff Tweedy: "The Faces' importance as punk prototypes cannot be questioned...Always fallng apart and having a great time at it. I love 'em and doubt seriously if we could have had a Sex Pistols much less a Replacements without them." Supergrass' Gaz Coombes: "The main thing that struck me...was the vibe of the band and the raw looseness between Rod's voice, the acoustic parts, and Ronnie Lane's fancy fingers...to me, The Faces are true, honest rock 'n' roll." Guns n' Roses' Slash: "There was not one glam, punk, or even heavy metal band in the '80s that wasn't influenced by The Faces' look and/or sound, not to mention their party attitude...Trust me, we all wanted to be The Faces!" The Black Crowes' Rich Robinson, stating the obvious: "The Faces' influence on our first record was huge." The Replacements' Paul Westerberg: "There's minstrel slides and pianos; beautiful ballads too. Rockers never heavy or plodding, ever-swinging thanks to Mr. Jones...Ronnie makes sure the songs are wistful, Stewart and Wood making sure they're mighty...No glam but pub rock with flair...Try as I might to have made the 'Mats in their image, we were just too damn angry. Faces - that's my band."

Convinced yet? OK, not everything here is great, as some of these studio outtakes and live cuts (many culled from the BBC where they were much-beloved by DJ John Peel) were previously unreleased for a reason, and the band's four studio albums, most of which are generously sampled from (24 tracks overall, as opposed to 43 non-album tracks), were generally good but patchy, with only A Nod Is As Good As A Wink...To A Blind Horse really achieving anything close to classic status. Still, most of the live stuff is really good, sometimes really great, and the band cut their fair share of studio gems as well, the best of which appear here, such as the fabulous Wood/Lane co-write "Ooh La La," which you probably know from either the Rushmore soundtrack or that T.V. commercial (it's the song that goes, "I wish I knew then, what I know now," delivered with perfect imperfectness by Wood in a rare lead vocal). And of course "Stay With Me" may well be the best "morning after" song ever, led by Wood's cutting riffs, a powerhouse Rod vocal, funny if mean-spirited lyrics, and absurdly fast keyboard dashes from McLagan on the song’s frenetic finish.

Having just mentioned the band’s two best and best-known songs, let it be known that I also really like many other songs here not yet mentioned, such as “Too Bad,” “If I’m On The Late Side,” “As Long As You Tell Him,” “Cindy Incidentally,” “Come See Me Baby (The Cheater),” “Pool Hall Richard,” “That’s All You Need,” “Sweet Lady Mary,” “Had Me A Real Good Time,” “Love Lives Here,” “Open To Ideas,” “Three Button Hand Me Down,” “Miss Judy’s Farm,” and “Borstal Boys,” among others. Of course, ask another Faces fan and I’m sure they’ll come up with their own, much different list of favorites, such is the consistent quality delivered throughout this superb box set.

Alas, it was too good to last, as, frustrated by a lack of success and Rod's part-time involvement (McLagan: "the band came first for the rest of us."), Lane left for an artistically rich albeit commercially unsuccessful solo career in 1973 (he died of multiple sclerosis in 1997). The rest soldiered on (with new bass player Tetsu Yamauchi) for a couple of unproductive years, but the writing was on the wall, and they dispersed for good once Rod decided to go solo full time in 1975. Fortunately, the band's music hasn't aged a day since, and on the whole these four cds present a fantastic portrait of one of the great good time bands of the early '70s. This music is loose, raw, and rocking, yet it's still soulful and approachable, the vibe indeed being as if these five guys would like nothing less than to hit the local pub with you and have a good time. Everybody's invited, let's let the bubbly flow, all while these guys make you cry and kick your ass, as this classy package finally does justice to this overlooked band in all their flawed glory. It's the only Faces album you need to own, really, so save up and treat yourself; you won't be sorry. P.S. For the budget conscious, the single cd compilation The Best Of Faces: Good Boys...When They’re Alseep... offers a nice alternative.

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