Borstal Boys: Faces’ Ooh La La at 50
Looking back on the British greats’ fourth and final studio album
Released on the heels of the three albums that established the Faces’ penchant for exuberant, unabashed rock ‘n’ roll revelry, Ooh La La was seen by some as a more restrained affair, one that found bassist/vocalist Ronnie Lane’s songwriting coming fully to the fore.
Not that there was any diminished enthusiasm, and yet Lane’s folkish noir — as evidenced on earlier songwriting contributions such as “Debris,” “Richmond” and “Stone” — reflected a certain journeyman sentiment, one flush with observational detail and a quiet, contemplative sense of being.
Released 50 years ago this month, Ooh La La didn’t necessarily diminish the band’s rowdy image, but it did show they were fully capable of integrating melody with mayhem. Lane’s songs in particular — the overtly remorseful “Glad and Sorry,” the acoustic strum of “If I’m On the Late Side” ( a cowrite with Rod Stewart),” the laidback “Just Another Honky” (sung by Stewart), and the title track in particular — expressed a stoic sensitivity that clearly reflected the band’s blue collar roots. The latter track in particular has found revived popularity due to use in various films and commercials, and indeed its sweet sentimentality continues to create an indelible bond that remains wholly intact despite the passage of time.
Notably, Rod Stewart’s role as lead singer was beginning to take second place to his burgeoning solo success, causing him to miss the first two weeks of the recording sessions. An instrumental composed by Lane, Wood, McLagan and drummer Kenney Jones effectively helped fill in the gaps while Wood’s lead vocal — on the title track (his only such offering on a Faces album) — made up for the fact that neither Lane nor Stewart’s were satisfied at their individual attempts at capturing the song’s cadences. In fact, Stewart doesn’t appear at all on three of the album’s ten tracks, including, naturally enough, that seemingly impromptu instrumental “Fly In the Ointment.”
Ron Wood’s recruitment to the Rolling Stones and eventual enlistment as part of Jagger-Richards’ essential axis eventually led to the Faces’ disintegration, making Ooh La La the fourth and final album of the band’s collective career, save the shoddy live album Coast To Coast: Overture and Beginnings, released the following year. Lane’s weighing influence on the album caused keyboardist Ian McLagan to label it “Ronnie’s album,” and given the homespun sentiment that pervaded the effort overall, it’s easy to see why the diminutive bassist was given such due credit.
Nevertheless, Stewart trashed the album in the press, another indication of his desire to distance himself from the band, labelling it a “stinking rotten album” and “a bloody mess” in the pages of the British music magazines. Ultimately, that criticism proved unfounded, as the album eventually reached the number one spot on the U.K. charts.
In many ways, producer Glyn Johns can be given much of the credit for the album’s success, given that he effectively helped hold the band together and create a markedly coherent album that might not have been possible otherwise due to their internal squabbles. Rampant rockers such as “Silicone Grown,” “Borstal Boys” and “Cindy Incidentally “ showed they still possessed the energy and enthusiasm needed to affect some provocative proceedings. So too, the album cover — emulating a stylised photograph of Italian comedian Ettore Petrolini in his guise as his character “Gastone,” also attracted attention, courtesy of a die-cut design that made it appear as if Gastone was shifting his expression when the sleeve was pushed down. It’s somewhat macabre, but not out of keeping with the band’s markedly mischievous intents.
Ultimately, Ooh La La offers a fine representation of the Faces’ irreverent attitude, albeit with a gentle mix of sage sentiment. Granted, none of their albums effectively captured the raucous attitude they conveyed in concert, but no Faces fan can claim to be a completist without it.
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