Album Review: Face To Face – “Three Chords And A Half Truth”

If we can collectively say one thing about Face To Face circa 2013, it’s that we can effectively throw away all preconceived notions of what makes up the “Face To Face Sound.” Other bands that we associate with that we associate with that early-mid 1990s “EpiFat” period in the annals of punk history have a “sound.” NOFX and Strung Out and a decade or so of the Green Day catalog and, as a more recent example, Alkaline Trio all have a “sound.” With Three Chords And A Half Truth, Face To Face’s eighth studio album, it is safe to officially put to rest any notion that the band are going to return to the same stylistic well on more than one occasion. This writer, for one, thinks that’s a damn good thing.

There are, ahem, “fans” who’ve been holding out hope for Face To Face to make their eventual return to  an early-90s “Disconnected” sound. Those folks are going to be sorely disappointed. Three Chords And A Half Truth marks the band’s first release for new label home Rise Records, and finds the punk veterans more than just experimenting with some old school sounds. And by old school, I don’t, of course, mean the peak of the EpiFat years that the band is often lumped in with. Instead, think back an extra decade-and-a-half to the height of bands like The Clash and The Jam and you’ll have it about right.

By and large, Three Chords And A Half Truth is more mid-tempo than most of the band’s previous releases. Instead, the album is much more layered and textured than we’ve come to expect. Penned primarily by inimitable frontman Trever Keith and equally inimitable bass player Scott Shiflett, Three Chords... finds the foursome (rounded out by Chad Yaro on guitar and Danny Thompson on drums) pulling from an eclectic mix of 1970s style punk and post-punk influences. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the album in the Face To Face canon that Three Chords… most closely resembles from a sonic standpoint is their 1999 covers album Standards & Practices. More than one song contains obvious odes to The Clash, particularly opener “123 Drop” and “Welcome Back To Nothing.” I’ve seen people refer to some of the tracks as sounding like Generation X and The Explosion, and I think both are fair comparisons.

I’ve also got to say that I can pick out what I think may be homages to The Who, The Police and an eerie similarity to John Mellencamp’s “Crumbling Down,” though the latter one  may be imagined. I’m ashamed to admit that my knowledge of 1970s post-punk doesn’t run nearly deep enough to find an appropriate correlative to “First Step, Misstep,” which is a dark, oddly structured song that came from left field to supplant itself as my favorite on the album. I feel that it owes more to The Police or The Cars than to most other bands that come to mind, but again, I’ve got a limited frame of reference.

Piano, saxophone and the always faithful Hammond B-3 add some unique texture to a few tracks on Three Chords… However, that’s not to say that it’s Ignorance Is Bliss Redux (though that wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily). Tracks like “Right As Rain” and “Bright Lights Go Down” are infectiously uptempo, bright and anthemic, sure to inspire singalongs in their live sets from this point forward, though I’m going to pretend that the “stay gold” line in the latter track never happened. A couple other tracks like “Flat Black,” “Smokestacks And Skyscrapers” and “Paper Tigers With Teeth” would have at the very least fit in nicely on Laugh Now, Laugh Later. “Across State Lines” and “Marked Men” are great driving songs that begged to be played loudly in the car with the windows down.

So as not to totally and completely come across as the apologetic fanboy (which I may well be anyway), “Jinxproof,” while lyrically the most poignant and perhaps most outwardly personal track on the album, sounds flat, the only real misstep on the album. It reminds me of a Tom Petty song, but a not a hit, rather a deeper cut. Frankly, it sounds like it’s missing something, lacking the bite or the depth that makes the remainder of the album interesting. Also, my main criticism of the sound of LN,LL was the production on the backing vocals, and the glossy spit-shine on the production is present here too. The backing vocals remain too hot and up front in the mix for my liking, and contain a level of polish on the backing vocals still feels it sounds like the band were pressing the “hey” button on a synthesizer. But that’s probably splitting hairs.

But what worries me the most is that most of Three Chords And A Half Truth, like Laugh Now, Laugh Later before it, won’t find it’s way in to the band’s live set. Face To Face have obviously developed a reputation as being a great live band and deservedly so. However, the sting of the rejection of Ignorance Is Bliss by scores of fans seems to have left the band still a little timid to delve too deep into their catalog in their live shows. What they haven’t made since probably their 1996 self-titled album, is a bona fide great skate punk album. What they have made is a series of progressively more interesting, more mature punk-influenced rock records that never rested on their laurels and have not insulted the musical intelligence of the fans who’ve been along for the ride for the last twenty years. And that’s damn fine by me.

4/5 stars


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