THE ONE AFTER THE BIG ONE: Faces, OOH LA LA
On a good night in their prime, Faces could challenge anyone – including the Rolling Stones, who guitarist Ronnie Wood would one day join – as the Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band on Planet Earth. They had groove; they had humor; they had great songs and great sounds coming out of their amps and, in Rod Stewart, they had the preening, strutting, stadium-worthy singer who could both belt it out and entertain throngs of fans every night.
Problem was, by 1973, Stewart had his own thing going – solo gigs and solo albums (on which Faces bandmates sometimes played) and achieving no small bit of renown for himself. And in spite of insisting, at least initially, that he could handle both gigs, by the time sessions rolled around for Faces’ follow-up to their biggest record (1971’s A NOD’S AS GOOD AS A WINK … TO A BLIND HORSE), Stewart seemed largely disconnected, if not absent entirely. The resulting album, OOH LA LA, would be the band’s last, and though there are spots that could have been stronger, the record provided Faces with a graceful exit and their fans with a fond farewell.
The riff that opens “Cindy Incidentally” is a positively nagging thing – positive because it’s so cool, nagging because you wrack your brain trying to figure out where you’ve heard it before (maybe Bob Dylan’s “I Don’t Believe You,” at least in terms of melody). The song is great – a real “we gotta get out of here” tune, but with the added caveat of “together” – and Stewart and Wood play off each other perfectly. It was the album’s biggest hit, and it’s easy to hear why.
You can really hear Faces’ collective aggression on a track like “Borstal Boys,” on which the guitars sound like they’re being played through frayed speaker cones and Stewart sounds likewise shredded as he runs down a list of local ne’er-do-wells. “If I’m on the Late Side” is just the opposite, a gentle mid-tempo soul ballad tempered by Ian MacLagan’s organ and Wood’s song-long soloing behind the vocal. This band had range, but in either setting, the playing was unmistakably them.
With Stewart disengaged through the recording process, it fell largely to producer Glyn Johns and bassist and founding Face Ronnie Lane to hold things together. Lane has six co-writes acoss the album’s ten songs, and shares responsibility with Wood for the most indelible moment on the record – the closing title track. “Ooh La La” is a sentimental look backward that doesn’t yield to mawkishness, and its recurring line “I wish that I knew what I know now / When I was younger” (sung by Wood) is at once personal and universal, and a fine way to end the album.
It wound up calling an end to the band, too. Stewart would tour with Faces to support OOH LA LA, and would team up with members occasionally over the years, but this was the final bow for the group. OOH LA LA, album and song, saw them off with a proverbial nod and wink. Give the record a fresh spin and appreciate everything they were and had to offer.
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