Revisiting Faces’ Final Album, ‘Ooh La La’
Throughout the recording sessions for Ooh La La, Stewart was often out of the picture due to the demands of his status as a new hitmaker in his own right. The huge success of hits like "Maggie May" and "You Wear It Well" were proving a hard act for the Faces to keep up with. The Faces scored their only U.S. hit over a year prior with "Stay With Me," but were more and more being referred to as Stewart's backing band.
With Stewart's presence diminished during the sessions, things fell to Ronnie Lane to take charge. Ooh La La was ultimately "Ronnie's album," said keyboardist Ian McLagan in the liner notes to the Faces box set. "Rod wasn't there a lot, but Ronnie had his songs together already."
You'd never guess there was any tension within the group as you put that needle on the LP. "Silicone Grown" kicks things off in perfect raunchy style as the Faces deliver their signature ramshackle rock and roll. Written by Stewart and Ron Wood, it shows that despite any internal issues, or perhaps because of them, the Faces have lost no fire in their engine.
"Cindy Incidentally," a hit single in the U.K., follows perfectly. The song barely made a dent stateside and makes one wonder if its fate would have been different were it released as a Stewart solo disc. Alas, we will never know. "Flags and Banners" is another diamond from the pen of Ronnie Lane, this time employing a traditional folk-style melody and feel with great results.
"My Fault" is a real stomping rock and roller with classic Faces dirt all over it while "Borstal Boys" is one of the Faces' very best revved-up rockers. Hats off here also to producer Glyn Johns who was able to capture the Faces' natural raw vibe on this one. "If I'm on the Late Side," written by Lane and Stewart, is another simple, folkish tune that still feels a little tentative, as if there is something missing from the final mix.
Listen to Faces' 'Ooh La La'
On the other hand, "Glad and Sorry" is a genuine treat, and certainly one of Lane's finest moments here. "Just Another Honky" is a solid mid-tempo groover the Faces were so adept at, with McLagan's piano as the star here. The instrumental "Fly in the Ointment," however, seems like an afterthought here and is somewhat out of place.
Ooh La La ends with the title song, which, over time, has become one of the band's best-loved tracks. Written by the two Ronnies, the direction of the song was in question at first. "It was too high or low for Ronnie -- I can't remember which," said McLagan in the liner notes. "And Rod said it was in the wrong key for him."
Ultimately, the lead vocal was done by Wood, who remembers the Faces making jabs at his singing. "They were taking the piss out of me," he said. "Ahh, he can't reach the notes – what a terrible barrage to work against." But work against it he did, and his endearing vocal fit the song like a glove.
Ooh La La sailed to the No. 1 spot in the U.K. and hit No. 21 in the U.S., but things were starting to unravel further for the Faces, and Stewart partially blames himself. "I didn't particularly help the deteriorating atmosphere within the band," said Stewart in his autobiography Rod. "In an interview, I described Ooh La La as 'a bloody mess.'"
In fact, Stewart has some reservations about all the Faces albums. "None, to my mind, really did us justice or brought the energy of which we were capable onto record," he said. Rod was quick to note that part of the reason may have been the preparations used for recording. "Sessions with the Faces always started out in the pub," he said. "Quite often, we were in the pub longer than we were in the studio."
Be that as it may, the albums still make a terrific argument for this band as one of the finest ever to rock and/or roll. It was just their bad luck that the Faces had to compete with their own lead singer for sales and radio play.