Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Face to Face - 'Laugh Now... Laugh Later'

In a sense, Face to Face’s break-up never quite felt real. The band called it quits after the 2003 Warped Tour, then decided to reunite a year later for a proper farewell tour. Two years later, they released Punk Rock Eats Its Own, a documentary about the group’s history. Just two years after that, the group reunited and started touring again. Now in 2011, Face to Face has finally issued a follow-up to their supposed swansong, How to Ruin Everything.

While it wasn’t billed as such when it was released in 2002, Ruin sounds like a fitting final record, and its legacy looms over new record Laugh Now… Laugh Later. Ruin had a raw, live sound and the band’s fastest songs in years. Some tunes had a nostalgic air to them, like “Shoot the Moon.” The acoustic concluding title track had finality to it. The record just felt like such a great closing chapter.

Laugh Now thus has a few strikes against it. Self-produced by members Trever Keith and Scott Shiflett, the record lacks the punch Chad Blinman brought to Ruin. Face to Face always had a strong bass presence, but the low end doesn’t strike me anything special this time out. Laugh is also a lot slower, something made more obvious when hearing the new material performed live. Maybe it can be chalked up to time away from the studio, but it’s not like the members stopped making music. Really, the Face to Face moniker was just retired so Keith and Shiflett could return to exploring the more experimental, ambient textures of Ignorance is Bliss with acts like Viva Death and Real Space Noise.

But forget the whole “preserving the legacy” thing and Laugh Now becomes something else: A pretty catchy pop-punk album. It’s definitely more melodic than Ruin. It even boasts a first for Face to Face; “All For Nothing” is a genuine ’80s style love song on par with Modern English or Psychedelic Furs. There are glimmers of aggression on opening track “Should Anything Go Wrong.” Taken overall, it’s a solid record.

Laugh Now isn’t the worst F2F release (My pick: Reactionary), but it also doesn’t dislodge their finest works either. But for those of us missing them something fierce, it’s a welcome return from one of the ’90s best punk bands. I can only hope it educates a new generation of fans.

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