Face To Face
Standards & Practices
I used to go to a lot of punk rock shows back in the early-to-mid-'90s, basically anyone that would come to town in whatever hole in the wall they played in. While a lot of times I could take or leave some of the bands, a few diamonds in the rough became instant favorites, bands I would make sure I didn't miss the next time they came through. Face To Face was one of those bands, though when I first heard of them, I wondered how they were getting away with using the name without getting sued by the '80s one hit wonders (anybody remember "10-9-8"?). Once I got past that, I fell hard for their muscular yet hooky brand of pop-punk. It wasn't as syrupy as some of the bands that were playing circuit at the time -- you know, the ones that got HUGE later in the '90s (Green Day, I'm looking at you…), it was more raw and energetic. Yet at the same time, it managed a level of sophistication that few bands on the scene could match. I remember seeing wonderful shows at places like Ybor Pool & Pub in Tampa, where the power went out and they still kept playing, the crowd shouting along, and I cheered when their all-time classics, "Disconnected," was used in a chase scene in Tank Girl, glad the band was finally getting its due. I dropped out of going to see them regularly about the same time I got disenchanted with the mainstreaming of pop-punk, when you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing Green Day, but I'd always give Face To Face's new records a cursory listen, at the least, just to see what they were up to. I wasn't always thrilled with their direction, but the records were always solid and maintained the band's integrity.
So when Standards & Practices hit the Ink 19 offices, I grabbed it figuring I'd give it a listen or two and then let someone else do the review. Flipping it over, I noticed it was an all covers record, with some extremely interesting choices. Yeah, no shock to see a pop-punk band covering the likes of The Ramones and Bob Mould, but those was pretty much the only obvious choices. The other tunes ranged from New Wave classics from The Psychedelic Furs and INXS to seminal '80s acts like The Smiths, The Pogues, and The Pixies, and some sacred cows it took serious balls for anyone to consider covering, like The Jam, Jawbreaker, and Fugazi. OK, my interest was piqued, and I knew that no matter what, this was bound to be interesting, at the least.
The great thing, though, is that the record's more than just interesting -- it's a fascinating look into all the elements that made Face To Face so great to begin with. All the covers are respectful, and retain a lot of the quality of the original bands, yet they still sound like Face To Face. It quickly becomes obvious that all of these bands became ingredients in Face To Face's sonic stew, and that the reason I liked them so much to start with is that they were synthesizing a perfect blend of bands that I already loved. And they do such a good job of it, too! Look at "What Difference Does It Make?, " where they manage to do a better-than-fair approximation of Johnny Marr's complex, chiming guitar line, yet give the song more force than Morrissey ever could. Or "Heaven," on which lead singer Trever Keith reveals how much of his distinctive growl is inspired by Richard Butler's throaty sound. They're sides of the band that aren't immediately obvious, but when you hear the covers, they hit you like a revelation. "Of course," you think, "why didn't I see it before?" In my case, I think I did, even if it was only subconsciously -- I think that's why I originally liked the band so much in the first place.
Aside from the new insight this record gives, though, it's a strong, vibrant release. It's interesting that even with the most obvious artist choices, the band doesn't cover the obvious songs (i.e. the Ramones cover is "The KKK Took My Baby Away," while Bob Mould is represented with the Sugar song "Helpless," as opposed to something from the more obvious Hüsker Dü catalog).
It's been a long time since I liked a Face To Face record this much, and an even longer time since I've been out to one of their shows. Now that I've rediscovered their roots -- and mine -- I think I'll make a point of going out to see them next time they come to town. In the meantime, I'd heartily recommend Standards & Practices to anyone that's ever been a fan of Face To Face, or for that matter, to anyone whose ever been a fan of the bands they cover on this record. I can't imagine anyone finding cause to be disappointed with this album.
Lady Luck/Vagrant Records, 2118 Wilshire Blvd. #361, Santa Monica, CA 90403