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The Who - Face Dances CD (album) cover


The Who



2.49 | 117 ratings

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3 stars Many fans sadly missed the boat

Unlike Zeppelin's horrid "In Through the Out Door" from around the same time, the Who delivered a classy and vibrant album of good rock songwriting basics in an updated package. Yes Keith Moon was gone, like Bonham, both men losing their lives to immaturity and alcohol excess. While talents like these are irreplaceable and many fans wouldn't give them the benefit of the doubt, The Who chose to keep going and somehow Townshend managed to pull out a rabbit. What immediately struck me upon returning to this old friend is the Pretenders' and Joe Jackson influence. It would be logical to guess The Who at some point influenced the Pretenders (and Jackson) but I swore I was hearing Pretenders in some of these Face Dances tracks--I really believe that. So I did some research and the Pretenders debut came out approximately 7 months before The Who went into the studio for Face Dances. I dug a bit further and found this line in an article about the Pretenders debut:

The Who's Pete Townshend described the effect of its provocative, sexually candid lyrics and hard-driving beat as being "like a drug." [guitar player, april 1981]

Bingo, he did like them! The Boston Globe also made waves by calling Face Dances "The Who's best album since 1973's Quadrophenia." Looking for a slightly refreshed sheen for the first post-Moon album they incorporated the swagger and edge of punk/new wave into a base of quality "pop and roll" songs. A calculated gamble for a band with a large number of entrenched heavier-loving fans but in this case it worked, at least for some of us. Production was handed to legendary producer Bill Szymczyk who believes his status as a non-musician gives him the ability to help bands presents themselves anew, noting "I'm a professional listener. I listen and I react. I never was a musician, so I don't bring any preconceived prejudices to the table; I don't favour the guitar over the keyboard, and so forth. I just listen and try to figure out if I have anything I can bring to a song." He did.

Beginning with a marvelous (if once again, overplayed) single, "You Better You Bet" delivers catchy hooks and sassy lyrics- the single was the freshest the band had managed in some time, with fantastic piano runs coloring the background, a very nice touch. "Don't Let Go Of The Coat" showed Townshend capable of crafting a light and sentimental pop track even if the lyrics were anything but light. The contrast is brilliant and the album is full of such inspired lyrical and musical trysts. "Cache Cache" continues the fun with one part Pretenders punky vibe alternating with a mellow vocal section. Entwistle's "The Quiet One" delivers a defiant vocal from the one people assumed was innocent, yet he claimed when Moon was blowing up hotel toilets with live explosives, it was he standing behind Keith with the matches. (Moon is said to have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars damages to hotel bathrooms, without even getting into furniture that went out the windows.) "Did You Steal My Money" delves into art-pop with some cool guitar shading from Townshend and a quirky feeling that would leave the faithful with their noses up, but it's pretty cool and a lot of fun. "Daily Records" has a 60s rock throwback feel to it and really nice drum work by Jones--obviously no Keith Moon but that isn't what the material here requires anyway. Only Entwistle's second number "You" stumbles a bit into faceless hard rock territory, a real shame they didn't choose the later-mentioned bonus track to slide into this location. The album closes with a flat-out Who classic rocker that was a middle finger to anyone who might suggest the band impotent or the cause unworthy. The not-so-subtle lyrics and raucous musical shove of "Another Tricky Day" would have in some ways been a perfect farewell for a band which never quite made another album this interesting. There are three unreleased bonus tracks from the sessions, "Somebody Saved Me" being a poignant, personal track that would have given this album more weight--it should have been included. Of the two live bonus tracks, it is "The Quiet One" from the '82 tour which jumps to another level of rowdiness in the live arena.

So while I may have judged this album more harshly at the time of its release, I believe it was one of the more successful releases by a "dinosaur" group to come from this era. Time's Jay Cocks said The Who had "outpaced, outlasted, outlived and outclassed" all of their contemporaries and at least in this period there was truth to that. Face Dances managed to maintain the dignity of the group's sound amidst the catastrophic loss of the band's 2nd most important member, while injecting a bit of fresh energy into their hide via new band appreciation and pop music recollection. All of this during a period of intense personal struggle for the band's lead songwriter. So while acknowledging the raw power of youth cannot be replaced and that many fans would never accept the new Who, looking back I would assert Face Dances a reasonable success. I think many people missed the boat on this one. Even our site Bio essentially ignores it which is a shame in my view.

Finnforest | 3/5 |


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