To order the Changes boxset (now shipping):
(With eternal thanks to Dearest Friend of the blog Cee for visual assistance with the physical media. And also many thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word of my review series, such as Yes fandom leading light Henry Potts of Bondegezou. I truly appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read the blog and also provide engagement via links and other comments on social media.)
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I will start out this next review by stating that Face To Face is my least favorite of Trevor's solo work overall, and thus I haven't been in a particular hurry over the near-decade of this blog's existence to write about it. But now there's a box set and so here we are. Trevor held much the same opinion, so at least we are in agreement.
Trevor offered this explanation for Face To Face lacking focus and overall quality in his liner notes for the 2002 reissue:
Around the time of this album I produced a number of albums in London, however, I was strongarmed by some "suits" to record my album in South Africa to save money. This was a mistake as I was really on a creative roll in London, which was broken by going back to South Africa for this project.So by his own admission, Trevor was engaging in parallel careers much as he did in South Africa. However - I put it to you, dear reader, that in fact what happened with Face To Face is Trevor literally overbooked himself, and there is journalistic evidence of this very thing. But before we get into that, let's go back to the original Chrysalis press release (an excerpt of which is included in the CD booklet) to see how the process was explained at the time.
The production of Rabin's second album Face To Face differs from his debut insofar as instead of laying down a rhythm track and creating over it, this time our man first recorded the whole LP in the studio with a band, Rabin on bass and various musicians handling the other instruments. A "live feel" having been obtained, the perfectionist Rabin then wiped the tape clean apart from his bass work and began all over again, little-by-little adding his own virtuoso interpretations.
Rather like stepping backwards to move forwards you might think, but this approach has added extra impetus and has resulted in several steaming heavy rock tracks - notably "The Wanderer."
Uh...okay. So does this mean that Trevor actually wasted time and money by recording the entire album at a fairly costly facility with a band and then declared he was going to do it all over again himself? Because I can imagine the answer to that would be: "Okay, you want to re-record everything? Then let your production company pay for it this time." And how would they do that, you ask? Well, Blue Chip Music owned the studio, after all.
So now we can set the stage for Face To Face...
As reported in various trade publications such as the UK music industry magazine Music Week: in June of 1978, Trevor signed a non-exclusive production deal with Chrysalis Records in his capacity as Head of A&R for Blue Chip Music. Most if not all of the production assignments Trevor obtained during the London years were under the auspices of Blue Chip, the production company formed by RPM co-founder Matt Mann and his business partner Ivor Scholosberg.
One of Rabin's first productions for the company is the House of the Rising Sun disco album by Hot R.S. which has already been a chart hit in France. A single will be rush-released, "reflecting Chrysalis' bid to break into the disco market in a major fashion," said a spokesman.I don't want to go into this too much because I do have another entire essay in the works regarding Trevor's foray into disco in South Africa and the like, but this deal is the basis for the Disco Rock Machine 2 release which was to come the following year. Trevor played on The House of the Rising Sun but it was produced by Kevin Kruger, a long-time friend and fellow session musician in South Africa. As most fans know, Kevin played drums on Beginnings (and thus Trevor Rabin) as well as Face To Face. And I would assume that Trevor's A&R acumen helped to obtain his studio singer cohort Rene Arnell distribution for her solo debut, though it turned out to be a singular occurrence. Call Me appears not to have had a UK release, however, only European distribution for any territories not covered by RPM.
I bring this up because many long-time fans have viewed a scan of the article which appeared in Music Maker chronicling a behind-the-scenes look at the conclusion of Trevor's months-long sessions at RPM, and the revelation that he had produced three albums simultaneously: Face To Face, Rene's album Call Me, and Disco Rock Machine 2 featuring his mainstays - vocalist Rene Arnell, RPM's house drummer Kevin Kruger, and engineer Hennie Hartmann.
So if we were to imagine Trevor's story is true, if in fact the "suits" at Chrysalis ordered him to cease his work at AIR Studios (where he had recorded with famed engineer Geoff Emerick and Dave Mattacks on percussion duties as well as other alleged individuals who will apparently remain forever unnamed) and relocate to cheaper digs, it would certainly make sense to return home to a studio he was already thoroughly familiar with. I'm not entirely certain how relocating outside the UK would have been cheaper unless there was a tax dodge involved, maybe? It's not like there weren't budget studios in London, after all. However, if Trevor had multiple projects he was contractually obligated to complete for the year and two of them were going to have be recorded in South Africa anyway...and that's not even taking into account the whole "starting from scratch" scenario. Or, if the insistence on saving money was supported by using the studio which was owned by the production company he already worked for, well, there wasn't much Trevor could do to counter that argument.
Because we have some verification of the actual situation courtesy of Jon Ossher's article, I think it's fairly easy to posit an entirely different scenario than the explanation Trevor offers in hindsight. Of course given the caprices of Time that's likely how he actually remembers it.
Let's back up the timeline - Trevor recorded in part at AIR Studios, which was co-owned by George Martin. There was an anecdote in the press regarding Martin making an offer to produce Face To Face but Trevor turned him down. I asked Trevor about this claim when I interviewed him in 2012 but he could not recall it and didn't believe it was true. I could believe it and yet also not believe it because who would turn down George Martin? Well...Trevor might, the very picture of self-determination that he was and is. But would George Martin offer to produce him? Sure, anyone could see how talented Trevor was. Now here's a wrinkle for you - Chrysalis and AIR were affiliated companies. Chrysalis was a co-owner of the studio's Lyndhurst location (opened in 1992) and likely served in the same capacity for the Oxford Circus location (the original facility, opened in 1970), where those Face To Face sessions took place. So how can it be perceived as too expensive when the record company co-owns the studio?
Trevor is quoted in Ossher's article as stating he was planning to complete the mix of the album in London; the preview he offered the writer and the "suits" at RPM was only four songs. Mixing sessions, and mastering the vinyl cut, those things cost money too, but money he was apparently going to spend in London regardless. All of these details aren't doing Trevor's excuse any favors.
Returning to my central point, I believe that perhaps - for better or worse - the reason why Face To Face displays a lack of focus and songwriting craft is because the greater part of that effort went into Call Me. I think that the story of one album is actually two albums - but only one of them is wholly successful in terms of ambition and execution, and it's not Face To Face.
Trevor and Rene at RPM Studios
Was this an act of artistic sacrifice? Perhaps, though I would characterize it as unwitting rather than intentional. But there's not a bad track on Call Me, and I can't say the same for Face To Face.
The primary strength of Call Me is Rene's songwriting (on her own and in partnership with Cynthia Schumacher), proving to an international audience she is far more than a mere girl singer (as she already possessed a measure of fame in South Africa), but Trevor's playing, arrangements and production skills provide a beautiful framework for the material, a variety of moods and textures on offer. Rene's powerful and soulful voice is entirely compelling, and there's an overall sophistication and touches of grandeur which elevate the songs above the usual pop-rock fray. And when you compare the two versions of Rene's "Hold On" (aka "Hold On I'm Coming") - Trevor as producer/arranger versus Rene and Ernest Schroder as producers and Eric Norgate as arranger - I think the results speak for themselves (although Trevor might have played guitar on the original version).
There are also elements which directly link this album to Trevor's own work. For example, "Sooner Or Later" and "Running Away" could have, should have been recorded for Face To Face as well. Listen to those tracks and tell me you can't imagine them on that album. Go ahead, I'll wait. And as I've previously opined on the blog, then there's "Paying My Dues" and how the arrangement prefigures "Owner of a Lonely Heart" so thoroughly it's like Trevor plagiarized himself (not that I'm actually suggesting he did, of course). And in that context - on somebody else's record - he could be far more adventurous than he would have been allowed to be on his own.
So I consider it rather a missed opportunity that Trevor didn't write songs with Rene, although that wasn't his style or his identity. He was the wunderkind who did just about everything himself. But I think it could have made for a better album if he had. I like to imagine it was all a shared project and have combined my favorite tracks from both into what I consider to be a great "what if" release. I actually recommend listening to both albums to appreciate the full picture of where Trevor was at from a musical perspective in 1979 - because he didn't invest his own work with everything he was capable of, just sayin.'
And Rene's harmonies are a integral part of Face To Face for certain, providing a particular emotional intensity which Trevor, for all his stacked layering wizardry, can't quite access on his own.
Some reviews of the time appear to be in favor of the more "gritty" Trevor in terms of his rock n'roll reductionism, while others criticize Trevor for continuing on as a one-man band. But it seems everyone agrees that this album is attempting to establish a different identity for him as more of a hard rocker/guitar hero. It was my belief that Chrysalis was trying to make Trevor into yet another pub rocker but he's just too melodically-oriented for that kind of thing. And Trevor has acknowledged the pressure to evolve into something which didn't feel authentic to him, as he notes in a 2004 interview:
I think Face To Face suffered from some of the issues we talked about in terms of making contrived music. When I made that album I thought “I’ve got to do something like this,” rather than letting the process happen.
* ~ * ~ *Side One
"I'll Take The Weight"
I'll say that whatever faults this album can be said to have, the music is well-composed overall. I love the way this one lopes along, with some appealing layers introduced along the way. But only the chorus is interesting to me from a lyrical standpoint, and as with many of the choruses Trevor comes up with, it's catchy. I like the I'll take the weight off your shoulders. I'll take the load off your life. Trevor's vocal is attempting some kind of effect, but whatever it is, I don't know that it works. The middle eight is also really strong, with that driving riff framing a solid solo.
"Don't You Ever Lose"
As with more than a few tracks on the album, Trevor and Rene's harmonies are so perfectly layered. The lyrics on this one aren't so cringe-worthy, but again - what the actual fuck is up with his delivery? It's like he's trying to sing more as a hard rocker, I suppose, but doesn't really know how. I might attribute it partly to the change in his register, as Trevor is now singing as more of a mid-range tenor, so he sounds like he's straining at times. But musically this fits in with the overall mission statement. The organ on the bridge kind of derails that mood, though, just briefly. There's a lot of keyboard elements throughout the album which I do appreciate.
"I'm Old Enough (To Make You A Woman)"
This song could reasonably be considered a "low moment" of the album (in Trevor's words) but you know what? It's equally awful and wonderful. There, I said it. It's been said no pleasure is a guilty pleasure, but...yeah, I'll cop to this one. Trevor is really better suited to pop themes as a vocalist and the yearning he infuses these...cheesy...lyrics with? It's delicious. And somewhat interestingly an inversion of the expected subject matter when it comes to age difference in relationships.
I often wonder if because he was compared to Queen so many times in reviews of Trevor Rabin he decided to actually sound like Queen, and in terms of his guitar tone he absolutely recreates the Red Special as if he had borrowed it from Brian May (and we know that would never happen, so it's an impressive achievement). I'm also betting Dave Mattacks played on this song. I have no basis for this opinion save that I've listened to a lot of Kevin Kruger's drumming and this strikes me as somewhat different.
I have no idea what this song is actually about - Trevor's then-manager Pete Smith wrote the lyrics. It's about a girl who's a pirate, maybe? I've tended to imagine it that way because I do think about such things. But without knowing the actual lyrics, well - especially these which aren't particularly clear. Trevor's delivery doesn't sound so awkward, finally. There's some kind of chorusing or delay effect used on his voice in the chorus that's really interesting.
But the bridge between the verses and chorus? It rocks so hard, especially that bass! It's really engaging as a track, musically-speaking. It's definitely the most "hard rock" which strikes me as authentic in terms of genre expression.
This is, arguably, Trevor's worst ballad (though I also feel that way about "Would You Feel My Love" which apparently he likes? So what I do know, right?) and the best part about it is that it's brief. I feel like maybe he wrote the lyrics in 10 minutes after struggling to come up with something for many days prior. I get why it's generic but that same quality is not particularly attractive in terms of the sentiment it's meant to convey. The track itself isn't that inspiring either, to be honest. For me, this is the lowest moment on the album.
Speaking of borrowing guitars, Trevor has claimed he did borrow one of David Gilmour's for this track. In my "Five from five" essay I have opined why I feel this is the best track on the album, and I've read various commentary over the years which shares that opinion so I'm gratified. It's the track with the most ambition, and I think it delivers overall - a melding of Trevor's musicality and his production prowess. The emotion he means to convey is absolutely realized, both musically and vocally. The song is dramatic, but in a wholly appropriate way. The solo is perhaps the first of Trevor's sonic experiments particularly in that vein and the various layering Trevor incorporates in the fade-out, panning between the channels, is an interesting use of textures.
I have discussed this track previously in my Halloween Special essay from 2012, the song is about the Yorkshire Ripper, and is one of the UK-specific references on the album, as Peter Sutcliffe had been terrorizing the countryside for nearly a decade (and thus, was news during the period of this album's creation and recording). Pete Smith wrote these lyrics as well, and the tone of the words along with the music is...inappropriately playful? As it is written in first-person narrative, so from the POV of the killer. But that is a UK thing, a sardonic sort of memorializing and part of a tradition, as I also note in the aforementioned entry. I do like Trevor's vocal on this track, further cementing my whole ambivalence about this song in general. The outro solo is certainly masterful but it's a little much for my tastes.
This song has a particular lighthearted mood to it which I enjoy. It strikes me as the most English song Trevor has ever written, and I don't just mean because it's about a quaint little place down in Yorkshire. There's a bit of humor in his vocal at times and touches of whimsy, such as his use of a concertina in the second verse. It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of inclusion but when you do finally catch it, it's just...funny. But in a way which makes one smile.
"Always The Last One"
Although I believe "Now" is the best track on the album, the closer is a very close second. It's a perfect summation of Trevor's talents: a well-composed song which is expertly performed, arranged and produced, infused with the appropriate emotional heft. It has a certain kind of grandeur to it even as it is also a hard-driving rock song, with an appropriately shredding solo in the middle eight. From what I can surmise from the lyrics, it's about a relationship of some kind (more platonic than romantic, I would say) which has faded away due to time and distance, and the narrator is attempting, if not to revive it, then at least assure the other person they remain connected because their bond is just that deep. I have a theory as to who it's about but I don't actually know. The bridge before the chorus even borrows from "Now" in terms of the backing vocals included (or maybe it's the other way around). And there's a kind of metallic "echo" at the very end which is a really fascinating detail to me.
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Weirdly, it seems like the two covers for Face To Face are expressing different concepts for Trevor's image: the UK cover an extreme close-up of that beautiful face and a guitar headstock emblazoned with his name, melding the two things in the minds of the public - but wait! You can see seemingly reflected images inside the tuning pegs: a bass headstock, a keyboard, and a vocal microphone. This guy does it all! The back cover is wholly staged and maybe a little cheesy but what warms my fangirl heart is the vintage outfit (because Trevor never gets rid of anything) - those silver pants and striped tank top actual Rabbitt-era togs and kinda rock n'roll, I guess? The choice of the Les Paul he wields goes along with the cover photo, and I suppose it's rather more Guitar Hero. But I continue to be mystified that Trevor was never photographed for album covers or publicity photos with his Strat - which is his guitar, as integral to his image as a player as Eric Clapton's Blackie was for him. But the UK variant truly is the best album cover of the Chrysalis releases: attractive and clever and graphically interesting. And best experienced as an actual album cover: to hold in your hands and appreciate the immediacy of the images. (Yes I have several copies of the vinyl, but I'm a collector, I collect things, okay?! It's not a problem or anything.)
As I noted prior, the CD booklet contains some of the text of the original press release (which was indeed also included in the programme for Steve Hillage's 1979 UK tour on pages 14 and 15; long-time fans are aware Trevor was the opening act). And I will say that instead of reprising the UK cover art for the album three times in the booklet, why not include a live performance shot from that tour? They're out there, after all. Trevor's even promoting his own album, wearing one of the t-shirts fans could purchase (Oh wait, now that would have been an actually interesting idea for new merch!).
Like this one.
Or even this one.
Why are there two covers? I don't know but it is interesting that Rick Derringer released an album with the same title and a very similar photo to the UK version a year later.
There is a single edit of "Don't You Ever Lose" (which was originally released on a "maxi-single" with tracks from Trevor Rabin) listed as a bonus cut on the back cover and the disc itself, however it is not actually included. And I know I'm not the only one who has asked about this, but I honestly don't expect to receive a response, nor should anyone else who inquires. It's just a fuck-up, I guess - oh well! I assume it would have been a needledrop like the single edits on Trevor Rabin. It's not that I feel particularly cheated or anything but I think when you're asking people to pay over a hundred dollars for a deluxe box set, then you should strive to ensure there aren't any issues with it.
This is my speculation of course, but since long-time fans know of the existence of at least one track which didn't make the album ("Big Money") it would have been nice to have a real bonus in the form of something truly rare - but perhaps such a thing is no longer possible.