The Best of Faces: Good Boys ... When They're Asleep ...

(Warner Archives/Rhino)

Respect never came easy for Faces, even during their early-Seventies heyday: Written off as a stumbling, inferior version of the Rolling Stones when they weren't regarded as merely the back-up group for its vocalist Rod Stewart, Faces were in fact neither. Rather, this bluesy, boozy, ragtag quintet (Stewart, guitarist Ron Wood, bassist/vocalist Ronnie Lane, keyboardist Ian McLagan, and drummer Kenney Jones) redefined the sonic and thematic possibilities of boogie-injected rock and roll. Like vintage Mott the Hoople, Faces could rock like mad, but they also brought a melancholic, folk-laced sensibility to the music that was an anodyne for the thundering dunderheaded glop of Deep Purple, Humble Pie, and the subpar fools who stomped along behind them (not to mention that they were far more convincing than the quasi-demonic shtick of Mick Jagger).

The stunning compilation Good Boys ... When They're Asleep ... is an alternately raucous and weepy homage to the band's legacy, which began in 1969 when Steve Marriott left the Small Faces (to form Humble Pie) and was replaced by Stewart and Wood, alumni of the Jeff Beck Group. The retooled, renamed lineup bashed out a fine, if somewhat tentative, debut (1970's First Step) that provided the groundwork for Faces, with a crashing blues burner ("Three Button Hand Me Down"), a gorgeous lover's lament ("Flying"), and a pile-driving cover of Bob Dylan's "Wicked Messenger" that demolishes the original. Those songs are all included on Good Boys, as is the cream of the group's remaining three albums: the mostly great Long Player; the masterful A Nod Is as Good as a Wink ... To a Blind Horse; and the patchy Ooh La La.

Like the best solo work issued concurrently by Stewart, Faces reveled in their misfit status. Although they're known primarily for the massive fuck 'em/leave 'em 1971 hit "Stay With Me," Faces' greatest songs were underdog anthems of hard luck and heartache that rocked with a vengeance: the black sheep returning home in "Bad 'n' Ruin"; the young, foiled lover in "You're So Rude"; the poor sap who loses his girl to the hustling "Pool Hall Richard"; the motley crew that crashes a swank party only to get thrown out after their cockney accents betray them.

Through them all there is a palpable camaraderie that's almost unrivaled in rock and roll. This was a group that played together, in every sense of the word, with Wood's chunky chords and hair-raising slide guitar melding with Lane's Motownish bass burblings, and McLagan and Jones holding down a rhythm that was powerful enough to knock you over, but loose enough that it threatened to tumble down at any minute. Meanwhile rough-grained vocalists Stewart and Lane complemented each other: the former with his rugged, soul-steeped wails and plaintive croon, the latter with an unvarnished tone and humble phrasing that turned ballads such as "Debris" into evocative, aching tearjerkers.

Sadly Stewart's colossally successful solo career put a strain on this seemingly inseparable unit, with Lane departing in 1973 and Wood joining the Stones the following year. By 1975 Faces called it quits, leaving Stewart to squander his massive talents on the unctuous likes of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" and "Infatuation." Listening today to Good Boys ... When They're Asleep ..., that waste is even more galling and depressing, for as Dave Marsh points out in the set's excellent liner notes, they don't make rock bands like Faces anymore. -- John Floyd