Graded on a Curve:
Faces,
First Step

I am, I don’t mind telling you, the biggest fan of the Faces who has ever trod upon the earth. I love them. I love them so much I would gladly shovel their dung, much as the elephant dung shoveler at the circus who, upon being asked why he doesn’t find a less flagrant job, replied, “What, and give up show business?”

That said, I have a confession to make. I’ve never, and I mean never, listened to their 1970 debut LP, First Step. I don’t know why this is so. I suspect that, somewhere in the back of my lizard brain, I believed they weren’t ripe yet. I didn’t think they were fully Faces. So yesterday, in a paroxysm of guilt, I turned First Step on. And my feelings, while not completely positive, are positive enough. It’s a good LP. Not a great LP, but a solid one, and I must admit to being a fool for having snubbed it for all these years.

The first thing I have to say about it is that it features not just one, but three songs on which both Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane sing. They sing in tandem on the slow and lovely “Nobody Knows,” and it’s a revelation. It’s a pity they never made it a practice. And on the similarly slow “Devotion,” which is rendered all but holy by Ian McLagan’s organ, McLagan sings and is echoed by Stewart, and it’s lovely indeed. Ronnie Wood’s guitar is wonderful as well. As for “Shake, Shudder, Shiver,” it’s the Faces at their best—heavy, but not too heavy, and just loose enough to dance to. All of the parts are working, and working well indeed. Rod even gives out a few of his trademark howls.

The second thing to be noted is that First Step includes two instrumentals, which in my opinion is a waste of both two songs and two ginger-crack vocalists. “Pineapple and the Monkey” is heavy on the organ and Wood’s fantastic guitar playing, but it’s a mite on the slow and ‘eavy side, and plods a bit, much like the anti-hero of Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies. And McLagan’s organ is a bit too “lounge jazz” for my tastes.

Meanwhile, the bloozy “Looking Out the Window” at least has some menace, and is up-tempo enough to hold my interest. Wood plays some wiry guitar, and this one is a keeper but still—why not add some vocals to the thing? The Faces were never the hardest working band in the rock biz—that, indeed, was part of their charm—but couldn’t somebody have bothered to sit down and write some lyrics for this one?

The Faces’ cover of Bob Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger” approaches the reverential, while “Flying”—which along with “Wicked Messenger” has found its way onto most Faces compilations—is a mid-tempo number on which Rod Stewart carries most of the water. Best rasp in the world, hath Rod the Mod. As for “Stone,” it’s a bouncy and even ebullient folk tune that features Lane on vocals. Very pleasant and spritely it is—Stewart plays some harmonica, McLagan distinguishes himself on piano, and no one has ever sounded quite so wistful and sad as Lane—but it’s almost undone by its lyrics. “Well once I was a daisy” is the kind of line that sends me running. And “once I was a grub” is the kind of line that sets me both running and screaming. You can say it possesses a childish playfulness, but I’d sooner leave that sort of thing to Jonathan Richman.

“Around the Plynth” is a stone classic, and the Faces at their very best. It opens with some stunning Wood guitar, then kicks into gear (Kenney Jones’ drumming is a wonder) and proceeds, in a herky-jerky manner, to burn your whole life down. As for “Three Button Hand Me Down,” it opens with some wonderful bass by Lane, and is a humorously defiant nod to the downtrodden of the earth. Wood once again demonstrates that he was one of the best guitarists of his or any time, while Stewart lets loose with one of those trademark cackles of his. No one has ever cackled better. Why, he even tosses in an insouciant laugh for good measure. His three-button suit may be a relic, but he wears it well.

The Faces would go on to do great things. Rod Stewart would go on to do great things as well. First Step may not be as good as the band’s subsequent LPs, but it’s a rewarding listening experience nonetheless. Toss out the two instrumentals and “Stone,” and replace them with some classic Faces boogie, and it would be as good an album as any of the other Faces LPs. Just listen to “Around the Plynth.” Whatever a plynth is. A sub-species of sloth perhaps? Seriously, what’s a plynth?

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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