Faces - A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... To A Blind Horse - Review
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critics' view

When they entered the studio to record their third studio album, the Faces were really gathering momentum. Unfortunately for public perception of the band, their lead singer's solo career was taking off even faster.

The group's second effort, Long Player, represented a major commercial leap when it arrived in stores in February 1971. A Top 40 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, it was nevertheless eclipsed by singer Rod Stewart's third solo record, Every Picture Tells a Story, which hit No. 1 in the U.S. and U.K. after its May debut.

It all added up to a group that couldn't do much of anything without being compared to its famous frontman, and an uncomfortable state of affairs for Stewart, who was perpetually being asked whether he and the band were headed for a split. The Faces were already a notorious live act whose incredible chemistry outweighed the members' reputation for playing under the influence, but that spark had yet to truly catch in the studio. For many, it seemed only a matter of time before Stewart flew the coop for a full-time solo career.

“I definitely think we felt that everything relied on this album – for the group’s future,” guitarist Ron Wood admitted later. “Especially with Rod becoming a ridiculous success. We had to come out with something good.”

They were helped in that respect by new co-producer Glyn Johns, who came in as an impartial outside set of ears while helping to wrangle the unruly band members into recording shape. It couldn't have been the easiest gig, but it's easy to understand why Johns was attracted to it — aside from Stewart's formidable (and increasingly ubiquitous) vocals, the group boasted the prodigious talents of keyboardist Ian McLagan, future Who drummer Kenney Jones and perpetually underrated bassist Ronnie Lane.

With Johns helping ride herd, the Faces were brought more attentively to bear on some of their finest material. While public perception was increasingly focused on Stewart, the new album — titled A Nod Is As Good As a Wink … to a Blind Horse — presented the band at their creatively democratic best. Of the eight originals they lined up for the LP, the majority were co-written, with Lane, McLagan, Stewart and Wood all having a hand in the record's makeup.

As Lane recalled in the years after its release, Nod captured a group firing on all cylinders. “We were hot,” he marveled later. “We had been playing a lot in America and it had really tightened us up. The Faces got to be so good that I myself would stand on one side playing the bass, and I was in awe of the band I was playing with.”

Audiences agreed. A Nod Is As Good As a Wink … continued the Faces' commercial ascension, breaking the Top 10 in the U.S. and U.K. and racking up half a million sales in America alone. The record also boasted the band's biggest hit in the Stewart/Wood composition “Stay With Me,” which peaked at No. 17 in the States.

To the inevitable annoyance of the band and its fans, Nod's success failed to quell questions of a breakup, particularly as both Stewart and the other members of the group continued to pursue projects outside the Faces. Sooner than later, the demands of maintaining both careers would prove to be too much for Stewart, and the band dissolved in the middle of the decade. In the short term, however, the singer continued to insist he hadn't forgotten the value of the band members' singular combination.

“A lot of people think it's just a front,” he insisted. “They think we have to be different cos other bands like arguing and splitting up. But it really is genuine. I swear it. In fact, I think the musical press must be surprised we haven't split up by now. I swear to God we're together for life.”

Ultimately, the Faces would be destined to remain in Stewart's shadow, at least as far as mainstream audiences were concerned — although they continued to inspire a devoted cult following over the years, and their boozy brand of pub rock inspired a slew of younger acts, some of whom enjoyed greater commercial success. Their recorded output, while far too scant, remains timeless — and it reached its creative apex with their third LP.

“It’s not just the sound. Glyn featured everybody,” MacLagan later argued. “He utilized everyone’s talents. A Nod Is As Good As A Wink was a f—-ing good album.”

Jeff Giles
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