Released Apr. 9th on Rise Records
When Face to Face put out Ignorance Is Bliss in 1999, they lost many of their SoCal punk fans by switching to a more alternative/indie rock sound. They quickly backpedaled, and their catalog has otherwise stuck to their strengths: fast skate-punk with big choruses and lots of whoa-oahs. On Three Chords and a Half Truth, their second album since reuniting in 2008 after a 4-year split, they’re again stretching their creative legs, though not nearly as far as on Ignorance Is Bliss. Three Chords slows things down a bit from the Face to Face we’re used to, going for more of a traditional rock sound.
Opener “123 Drop” sets the tone with a stomping beat that then gives way to the rousing “Welcome Back to Nothing”, a track that strongly evokes The Clash’s “Tommy Gun” in its opening riffs. Most of the songs on this record evoke a blend between that band and F2F’s SoCal contemporaries Social Distortion, another group that over the years has smoothed out their aggressive early sound by transitioning to rootsy American rock. One can imagine Mike Ness stepping in for Trever Keith in “Right as Rain” and the song having the exact same vibe.
“First Step, Misstep” is a shuffling two-step number, while “Bright Lights Go Down” is a faster with a sing-along chorus that’s probably the album’s closest thing to the Face to Face we’re used to (and bears a strong resemblance to MxPx, now that I reconsider it, as does “Flat Black”). On the album’s second half, “Jinxproof” aims to be inspirational but there’s something about the title word (or maybe the way Keith sings it) that comes off silly to me. “Marked Men” is another shuffler that never really builds to anything and then just sort of fades out.
When I saw Face to Face play this material back in May, Keith acknowledged that the mellower sound of the new album wasn’t something the fans were chomping for: “I know, you’re a San Diego crowd” he said in a friendly-but-sort-of-self-deprecating way, “You’re thinking ‘I wanna hear something from [the bands’ 1992 debut] Don’t Turn Away and I want it fast‘, but we gotta play the new stuff too.” It makes me wonder, when he’s repeating “everything I’m telling you is a lie” in the title track, how much he’s referring to the stylistic shift on the record being an indulgence.
Closer “Across State Lines” is a tour song in which Keith declares “I don’t want this to end”, and that sentiment sort of sums up the album for me. At this point the guys in Face to Face are in their 40s and aren’t trying to break through to new audiences. They’re a seasoned road band, having weathered a career with many ups and downs, and even after a 4-year breakup they’ve got a built-in audience in their home turf that’ll turn out to every show to hear tunes from the ’90s, no matter what new material the band puts out. That frees them up to try something a bit different stylistically rather than be beholden to their early skate-punk sound. It’s nice to see the band stretch out and follow their muses, even if the results don’t measure up to their classic material.