Quietly hidden between the hopeful “Unpack Your Heart” and the uplifting “Midnight Sun,” is “Face,” our Song of the Week 5. Sneaked in between those two powerful songs, “Face” perfectly exemplifies the diversity of sound and emotion that we find in Behind the Light. As unique as “Thicket” in terms of concept and execution, “Face” is in many ways its opposite, showing a musical and emotional restraint that really contrasts with the rest of the album.
Based on a deep groove and melody reminiscent of gypsy jazz, the song has a cool, sexy feel that serves to hide–perhaps intentionally–the heartbreak we find within the lyrics. Another one of Phillip’s solo writing credits on Behind the Light, “Face” also captures the deep musical connection between the members of Phillip’s acoustic trio, made up of Phillip, guitarist Errol Cooney and cellist Dave Eggar. Although not exactly a trio on “Face” (thanks to the excellent addition of Chuck Palmer on percussion), the song captures the trio sound by highlighting the masterful contribution of each player without adornments or major production. It’s probably no coincidence that both Dave Eggar and Errol Cooney have called “Face” one of the favourite songs they got to do on Behind the Light, Errol pointing to the song’s “minimal live arrangement” and Dave to the chance it gave him to explore “a jazz or gypsy type of use of the cello.”
Both of these elements are indeed key elements of the song, and ones that help bring to the studio the pure sound, joyful creativity and musical camaraderie displayed by the trio during their live performances. Much like these performances, the song’s minimal arragement allows us to clearly hear the inner workings of the musical exchange–the conversation–between the trio without any other instrumentation or production coming between them, with Phillip and Errol laying down the rhythmic and melodic core of the song, the percussion further grounding the groove of the guitars and Dave gliding in and out freely, colouring inside and outside the lines with the cello.
Though the meaning of the song’s lyrics appears to be right on the surface, I don’t think it’s that simple, especially given the mysterious title of the song. They speak of a relationship that has not been equal, where one seems to have been more invested than the other. The lyrics could be directed at the other person but they could also be an internal conversation, a struggle between the mind and heart of somebody who is fighting to forget and move on. We can go back to the music again to give us hints and to illuminate us as we hear the percussion and the guitars maintain that in-the pocket groove but also Errol and Dave expanding over the melody and the theme more freely, romantically, almost seductively.
And later, when Phillip sings the same lyrics repeatedly over the bridge (“When you find your way back in darling, I won’t give my heart again”) it’s almost more like a self-promise than a warning to the other, as if he’s gathering the strength to say those words out loud, to actually “walk out the door.” In the end, maybe “Face” speaks of a heartbreak that has become tinted with coolness and pride, the kind that needs to show a stoic face to hide a broken, trampled-on heart.
Check out Phillip and band playing a cool, full band rendition of “Face” below. And, if you haven’t yet done so, click here to buy Behind the Light!
All photos by Phillip Phillips.