I’ve always been of the opinion that while The Faces wrote and recorded some great songs, they never actually released what I would call a classic album. However on their third album, 1971’s A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse the band came pretty close. It was also their highest selling LP, breaking into the top 10 in the U.K. and top 20 in the U.S. As you’d expect, the record is yet another late night, boozy outing from the boys, where all they want to do is get drunk and get laid (no doubt in that order), so nothing new in terms of subject matter. Because what we have here is a nice bit of lad-rock, sloppy in places, debauched in others, but always good fun (if not entirely clean and wholesome). Since the music they made reflected the group’s collective lifestyle (John Peel once remarked that Rod Stewart was “a committed bachelor even when he was married”), a lifestyle which flies in the face of a society which today is obsessed with all manner of super foods and rigorous exercise. In contrast, Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones seemed to get everything they required out of beer and ciggies, along with the odd English fry up every now and then.
So, open a bottle of your favourite beverage, turn down the lights, and take yourself back to a time when musicians were allowed to get smashed on stage and sing politically incorrect verses.
The album gets off to a strong start with the Stewart and Wood penned “Miss Judy’s Farm”, where Stewart’s raspy vocals fit well with the band’s tight yet somewhat ramshackle sound overall. In fact I wouldn’t be half surprised if the band weren’t half pissed when they recorded this. Because if anyone nowadays laid down a track as rickety as this there is no way any major record company these days would take them seriously.
Ronnie Lane sings lead vocals on the all so English “You’re So Rude”, about a chap whose amorous endeavours are sabotaged by his parents coming home unexpectedly (haven’t we all been there). Next we get all plaintive and thoughtful on “Love Lives Here”, with plenty of sad piano and guitar behind Stewart’s reflective voice, who sounds like he must have been fed sand paper as a baby. Ron Lane assumes lead vocals again on “Last Orders Please”, a rollicking, good time number, but little else.
“Stay with Me” was the band’s biggest hit, and one of the finest chauvinist rockers ever written. Concerned with a one night stand (and I’m sure that Stewart is singing from personal experience in this instance), our antagonist declares “Won’t need too much persuading/I don’t mean to sound degrading/But with a face like that/You got nothing to laugh about”. Well, clearly old Rod knows how to charm a lady when he sees one. Although something tells me he wasn’t exactly trying to get the feminist vote when he wrote it.
The despondent “Debris”, written by Lane, is another album highlight, and one which finds him picking up the pieces following a relationship gone wrong. The song has a sturdy narrative quality to it, something lacking in modern music today. Their cover of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” is certainly unique, I’ll give it that. Rod rasps out the lyrics, while the rest of the band bash away as if each musician is performing to a different song, but somehow managing to keep it together.
“Too Bad” is another Wood/Stewart tune, and yet another riff based vacuous-as-all-shit thumping party number, which you’ll forget as soon as it’s over. But since when has that ever been a bad thing?
The LP ends with the slide-infested “That’s All You Need”. Now considering that Rod had recorded some three solo albums by this stage, one has to wonder why he was still with the Faces at all. Saving his best material for those LP’s and leaving the meat and potatoes for the others.
The remastered edition has two bonus tracks, “Miss Judith’s Farm” and “Stay with Me”, both from the BBC, and recorded for John Peel’s Top Gear program. What these tracks make apparent is that there is little if any difference between the Faces live and in the studio.
Now I’m sure that in this age of slick digital marketing where every wrinkle and blemish is photo-shopped out of existence, my guess is that there is no way a rock group, much less any group nowadays would be seen dead releasing the sort of album cover we have here. But it’s a good indication of how much things have changed over the last 40 years or so, in terms of proximity between band and audience. And when one turns the album over we have puppet figures of each member, as if the Thunderbirds had suddenly traded in their superhero uniforms and decided that it was rock and roll where the real shit was happening.
For most people, the best way to experience the Faces is via a compilation, and there is no shortage of those. But if you’re still curious, and hungry for more, then any listener can’t go wrong with a copy of A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse. It might not be Sticky Fingers (Mick Taylor could run rings around Ronnie Wood any day of the week), but it remains the band’s best, and most accomplished album. And the blinder you get, the better it sounds!