Faces – Earth, Wind & Fire (1980)

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‘Faces’ is the tenth album from the Funk, Soul, R&B band Earth Wind & Fire.

I thought it would be fitting to do a review of one of the many albums the band have released given that singer, song writer and founder of the group Maurice White passed away recently.

By this point in the bands career the sound was tried, tested and was bringing great success. I picked this Earth Wind & Fire album to review because I believe musically they were at their peak. This is a perfectly produced album that I believe hits every goal the band set out to achieve.

‘Faces’ encompasses R&B, funk, and soul music. There are an array of instruments used on the album with the falsetto of singer Philip Bailey being used again to great effect and compliments with a deeper sound from Maurice White.

Earth Wind & Fire were always able to create a ‘big’ sound. On most of their songs it sounds as if there is a fifty piece band playing on the tracks with a full on choir. It’s a great technique that they use throughout their career and continue that here on ‘Faces’.

The first track is “Let Me Talk” which is a big and powerful anthemic opener about the freedoms we have in life but what we are in reality trying to strive for which the song depicts as erroneous.

As openers go it is perfect and sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly.

“Turn It Into Something Good” is a gorgeous song. It captures that late 70’s / early 80’s soul feel which EWF were the pioneers of. The instrumentation on this song is so pure and polished it has to be applauded for it’s production. White’s voice is spotless as the track talks about being positive and riding through the bad times.

“Pride” is the best song on ‘Faces’. Sadly it was never a single although having done some research the popular DJ’s of the time would choose to play “Pride” instead of the album’s lead single “You” and when you listen to the two songs you will quickly understand why.

“Pride” is quintessential EWF. The massive horns at the start and the tune they capture make this song sonically pleasurable. The unison singing carries through the entire song and there is no one singer prominent. Of course you can always pick out Philip Bailey with his falsetto vocal but then again it is one of the best voices in music from any period.

Lyrically “Pride” follows on from “Turn it into something good” and sounds a bit like part two of this track with the theme being about having self esteem and of course some Pride.

“You” is a song I find a little difficult to take in with the similarities to other songs far too obvious. The song starts off sounding like “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” by the Delphonics but then turns into an almost carbon copy of “After The Love Has Gone” by Earth Wind & Fire themselves. The chorus differ slightly and does enhance the song but the verses still irk me.

“Sparkle” is slightly sickly sweet in it’s composition and lyrical content:

Just give me a sign, and be my valentine
Let the arrow full of light, pierce the night
with loves affection

“Back On The Road” begins as if it is going to go into a full scale 80’s hairband rock song. The purpose of this short intro alludes me but the song soon goes into a mid tempo funky head nodding track which is exemplary.

This song tells a story of someone who has to leave to continue with his life and although he has shared an relationship with someone he believes this is not enough to stay and is explaining that she shouldn’t be sad and that she should carry on and move on with her life.

“Song In My Heart” is great fun. It’s got every element you want from an EWF song. It’s deliciously funky, and with a hook that is impossible not to feel good too. It is a positive happy song about love and friendship. If “Pride” is the best song on the album “Song In My Heart” is a close second.

“You Went Away” is a nice ballad but that’s about it. The ballad from EWF is beginning to sound a little generic at this point and perhaps with the 80’s looming a more radio friendly middle of the road sound is being lent towards.

“And Love Goes On” has a tune that sounds so much like “What a fool believes” by the Doobie Brothers it is stunning to me that a lawsuit wasn’t filed. The track from the Doobie Brothers was released only a year before ‘Faces’ so I can’t believe there wasn’t someone out there that noticed the similarities. Have a listen if you don’t believe me!

Sailaway” channels the vocal structure of the older male harmony groups like the Chi Lites with a nice (albeit again safe) ballad. The production on the track is slick and the use of the trumpet solo is certainly pleasent listening.

“Take It To The Sky” is a brilliantly written song. It is what Earth Wind & Fire are all about as a group which is positive messages written with a etheral touch which I almost imagine the group looking down from above and commenting on the way we live our lives.

“Time moved on and then
life and I became the best of friends
There’s no limit to
all the smiles in life, that’s in store for you”

Whilst EWF rarely mention religion or reference God in their lyrics I feel the gospel upbringing that the band members would have had really influences their message which they are giving in their music. There is a message flowing through their music and it is certainly evident on this track which is an expression of being happy in life.

“Win Or Lose” is probably the most modern sounding song (of the time) on the album. It remains a tad formulaic but again portrays the message of striving forward in life and not being afraid to fail.

“Share Your Love” is an upbeat number but feels a little like filler to me. It is almost an amalgamation of “Back on the road” and “Song In My Heart”.

“In Time” is probably the most creative song on the album. It is more to the left when it comes to the brand of Funk music EWF were used to producing. The bridge in this track is superb and again it is slickly produced and sounds like perfection.

The title track “Faces” is the final track. At 7.38m it is a long closer but it is deliberately big and bold. This track is an absolute stomper. This is a ginormous track full of instrumentation, with a live feel given to it’s production. It’s a unison choir-like funky frenzy.

There is incredible musicianship on this song and the use of the horn stabs are out of this world. This is Earth Wind & Fire as a straight up funk band. The middle of the road pop music is cast aside as they end this album with the perfect example of how good a band they were.

“Faces” as an entire album is probably about 2-3 tracks too long and would have worked better as a shorter album. Some of the songs sound too similar to each other and other tracks released by different artists at the time. It perhaps suffers from  lack of ideas with the band having released the album “I Am” only a year before. Why they felt the need to bring out an album so quickly I am unsure but this is what probably hindered the success of “Faces” (they didn’t even tour this album).

Musically the band at this point are at the top of their game and it was unlikely that any other successful funk/disco group could touch them. Perhaps no one ever will.

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