Face To Face was the first of several albums that would eventually earn The Kinks their rightful place among The Beatles, The Stones, and The Who as one of the most revered and influential English bands of the 1960s. The fact that they were the least commercially successful of these bands made them more of a personal favorite to rock fans than the darlings of screaming teenagers. Since The Kinks were nothing if not quirky, they were probably willing to trade financial rewards in order to secure their own niche among the somewhat congested world of 60s rock music.
The record starts off with "Party Line", a rocking tale of daily minutiae. While sly social commentary had popped up in previous Kinks songs (eg, "Well-Respected Man", "Dedicated Follower of Fashion"), this tune shows Ray Davies taking "think globally, act locally" to a bit of an extreme. (Was this really a good enough reason for him to not be "voting in the next election"?!) Other straight-ahead rockers on the album include "Dandy", "Session Man", "A House In the Country", "Most Exclusive Residence For Sale", and the inspired, tongue-in-cheek "Holiday In Waikiki". This handful of songs alone demonstrates Ray's wide range of topical interests: swinging bachelors, under-appreciated musicians, insufferable millionaires, and fish-out-of-water Englishmen. Just as Ray's social commentary was flourishing, so was his introspection. This is also strongly felt on Face To Face, as on the heartfelt pleas of "Rosie Won't You Please Come Home?", the plaintive "Too Much On My Mind", and the vivid, funereal contrast of "Rainy Day in June", the biggest downer on the record. There are also the old-fashioned ditties "Little Miss Queen of Darkness", "You're Lookin' Fine", and "I'll Remember", the George Harrison-esque "Fancy", and "Sunny Afternoon", their last major US hit single until they resurfaced in the top 10 four years later.
Simply put, Face to Face is a remarkably rich collection of songs. It is accessible and listener-friendly, but challenging and deep as well. Dave Davies' buzzsaw guitar riffs are nowhere in sight, and Ray does more that simply shout out the same few lyrics for 3 minutes. The lyrical and musical variety is very impressive, including the ivory tickling by Nicky Hopkins, the ultimate Session Man. This album is a far cry from the cookie-cutter, hodge podge records of the early 60s (those by The Kinks included). And it is particularly amazing that bonus tracks like "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" - arguably the first punk song ever - "Dead End Street" (US #73), and "Big Black Smoke" were minor hit singles and B-sides that nevertheless sit comfortably among Ray's best work.
It is disheartening to know that while the their peers were reaching the tops of the charts between 1966 and 1969, The Kinks were barely making a dent in them. (The Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur didn't even chart in the UK.) And yet their albums were at least as ambitious, consistent, and enjoyable as anything by these other bands. Four decades on, the fact that so few people have heard this music makes it all the more fresh to the newcomer's ears. Face To Face was the first of four records in four years that would snowball into what may be the richest body of work to come out of the UK or US in the late 1960s. Thankfully, it has proven to be hugely influential on subsequent generations, such that this record and its follow-ups can be said to be the bedrock for the entire spectrum of Britpop, from The Jam, to The Smiths, to Blur and Pulp.
Give me Face to Face over any other UK record from 1966 any old day of the week.