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The Who - Face Dances CD (album) cover


The Who



2.49 | 119 ratings

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2 stars While Keith Moon's drumming skills were obviously on the decline due to his insanely overindulgent lifestyle (as evidenced by his lackluster performance on 78's "Who Are You" album) and reportedly the subject of heated band meetings where Pete, Roger and John clearly enunciated their dissatisfaction and concern, his sudden death still devastated the closely-knit group. Despite his many professional warts and blemishes, Moonie was the heart and soul of The Who. Replacing him would be no easier than if the Beatles had tried to replace Ringo Starr. No freakin' way. There was an undeniable chemistry that thrived between the four musicians that was impossible to duplicate and three years hence, when they finally decided to carry on regardless of their immeasurable loss, 1981's "Face Dances" confirmed to the world that this once-mighty juggernaut of innovative rock & roll had lost a big part of its spirit and inimitable uniqueness.

While Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle were far from being innocent angels, Keith's manic, out-of- control personality had provided a stark contrast that made their heady lives seem downright docile. In other words, no matter how degenerate they got there was always a "there but for the grace of God go I" temperament when it came to comparisons to Mr. Moon's destructive behavior. In some strange way this allowed Pete to peer outside the rock star madness and the messages his songs conveyed in the mid to late 70s were more or less aimed at the maturing "my generation" in general. But no longer. Here the words are self-centered reflections of his own jaded, bitter and too isolated existence, making them much harder to relate to. Say what you will about Keith Moon's flawed yet singular style, but without it The Who sounded a whole lot more run-of-the-mill. The shame is that he didn't know just how vital he was.

The album's opener, "You Better You Bet," will always summon specific memories. In '81 I was engaged to be married to my first wife and she would drive me to my minimum-wage job where I labored to load up wooden pallets with cases of LPs and cassettes in the Warner/Electra/Atlantic warehouse. It was about a 45-minute commute and, with us being unreservedly in love, it would be a playfully pleasant ride but inevitably (and much to my chagrin) this song would come on the radio and my mood would sour. Being a lifelong fan, I wasn't enamored with the revamped Who sound. I was still in mourning for Keith so it really didn't matter if they shook the entire planet, I wasn't going to like it. In fact, it was years later before I was able to listen to the tune objectively and recognize it as a decent composition. The Who always had a knack for catchy intros and Pete's popping synthesizer and John's springy bass lines draw you right in. It was the perfect track for the debut of Kenney Jones in that it didn't require him to freelance (thus avoiding any comparisons to the mighty Moon) and its concise, taut arrangement was custom-made for success on the FM dial. Townshend's words about being frustrated with his cross, demanding girlfriend/wife seem more like something Entwistle would've espoused and, as I pointed out earlier, are rather narcissistic and chauvinistic for Pete.

"Don't Let Go the Coat" is oddly straight out of Margaritaville as The Who does Jimmy Buffett backed by the Eagles' three-part harmonies. What I'm trying to say is this. It's an unmitigated disaster. This weak, cream puff offering is so utterly out of place on a Who album that it defies reason. Nothing, absolutely nothing exciting happens during its 3:43 of existence and that's depressing as hell. Roger may sing "I can't be held responsible for blown behavior" but the whole band has to be judged harshly for this AOR snoozer. The embarrassingly dated, new wave-influenced "Cache Cache" that follows is less than flattering, as well. By now it's apparent that Jones isn't doing anything that a drum machine couldn't have been programmed to do more efficiently and Townshend's obtuse, true-life lyrics about spending time in a bear cage at the zoo are so ill-defined as to be pointless. At least Entwistle's rocking "The Quiet One," while it comes up woefully short in the imagination department, contains some energy and projects a snotty attitude sorely needed at this juncture.

As much of a letdown as the album has been so far, the group doesn't completely bottom out until the pitiful "Did You Steal My Money" arrives. The incessant mumbling that runs just beneath the verses is one of the most annoying things I've ever heard. You'd think a veteran producer as experienced as Bill Szymczyk would've nixed this stupid idea in the bud yet there it is, turning a mediocre tune into something grotesque. Adding insult to injury, the trite lyrics are some of the most insipid Pete has ever penned. The large-scale beginning salvo for "How Can You Do It Alone" promises more substance than it can eventually muster but, after suffering through the previous fiasco, it's more welcome than Preparation H on a hemorrhoid. Perhaps the number's vaudevillian oompah polka beat is something Townshend had been itching to use for years (but that Keith Moon steadfastly refused to take part in) but it severely limits what John can do on his bass, thereby undermining any impact the song could've had. However, the Scottish-tinged military segment that rises up in the middle is unexpected and intriguing so it's definitely worth listening to. Pete's lines about the emptiness of self- gratification and the futile search for sexual fulfillment that doesn't involve intimacy with another human being are brutally honest and some of the most thought-provoking on the record.

If not for the final trio of tunes this album would be close to despicable. Thank God they're here. On "Daily Records" Townshend's well-known admiration for operatic melodies and dramatic vocal delivery is apparent as Daltrey confidently handles the track's intricate score. There's a cool electric vibe running through the whole thing and Pete's guitar solo is the best of the proceedings. The lyrics encapsulate the mindset of a man who no longer cares to address the moral dilemmas of society, preferring to stay hidden away in a studio. "Just want to be making daily records/try to avoid the bad news in the letters/just wanna be making records/play in - play out/fade in - fade out/making records day in - day out." Daltrey sings. "You" is another of John's power drivers but this one's played with intense urgency. Entwistle's bass tone is bold and brassy, the melody line is involved and he wisely lets Roger handle the vocal. That move pays off handsomely as Daltrey elevates things to another level entirely. John's ongoing difficulties concerning the fairer sex is one of his favorite topics but here his angst is palpable. "You, there's a name for girls like you/you lead me on like a lamb to the slaughter/then you act like a fish out of water." Daltrey cries, then pleads "Save me!"

"Another Tricky Day" jumps headlong into a hard rock groove and the fluid vocal duet between Townshend and Daltrey on the verses works splendidly. It's the only cut on the album containing anything near prog, mainly due to the underlying synthesizer and the tension-filled bridge section. Entwistle's slippery bass notes add excitement and movement to Pete's bone-crushing power chords. Once again Townshend's words reinforce my contention that Moon's sad demise caused Pete to become more introspective and less altruistic. "We all get it in the end/we go down and we come up again/you irritate me, my friend/this is no social crisis/this is you having fun/getting burned by the sun." he informs us with resignation.

The only difference between this album and the follow-up, "It's Hard," is that this one doesn't include an iconic song like "Eminence Front" as its saving grace. The gaping, bleeding hole in the group's creativity and sense of humor left by the tragic passing of their beloved bandmate who truly made their magic bus' wheels go 'round couldn't be repaired, no matter how determined they were to continue on. It's actually quite understandable, if not fitting, that "Face Dances" would be the nadir of The Who's career. No one else could comfortably sit on that particular drum stool. 2.1 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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