It’s entire­ly pos­si­ble to be too clev­er for your own good — and that can be a strike again­st some­one try­ing to make it in the rock and roll busi­ness.  Face Dancer offers an exam­ple of this cau­tion­ary tale in action.  They were tal­ent­ed enough to attract a devot­ed local fol­low­ing and a record a few albums for a major label but nev­er got too far on a mass-media lev­el.  When you lis­ten to their debut album, This World, it’s easy to see why:  the­se guys were just too defi­ant­ly adven­tur­ous to become are­na-rock gods.

Imagine an album that syn­the­sizes AOR, prog rock, hard rock and pow­er pop into one big hard-hit­ting, ear-catch­ing stew and then dis­pens­es that stew to your ears via a series of curve­ball-filled hook machi­nes that nev­er go over 5 min­utes in length.  That’s exact­ly what you get here.  Face Dancer fires the warn­ing shot when they come bound­ing out of the gate with “Red Shoes,” a killer tune that welds hard-rock riff­ing to boun­cy pow­er-pop melod­i­cism to cre­ate a rock­er that stomps and swings all at once.

And the sur­pris­es keep rolling through­out the album: “Change” starts as a pomp-rock bal­lad with new wave affec­ta­tions but abrupt­ly shifts into a screech­ing speed-rock­er at the mid­point while “Cry Baby” fakes the lis­ten­er out with a state­ly intro before giv­ing way to a pound­ing rock­er that where tight riff­ing col­lides with dreamy synths.  Face Dancer’s roots lay in the pro­gres­sive rock scene, which goes a long way towards explain­ing the mix­ture of ambi­tion and exper­i­men­tal­ism that runs ram­pant through­out the album.  These guys hold up a fun­house mir­ror to are­na rock and rebuild it in the shape of the strange reflec­tion they see.

However, the ambi­tion on dis­play here doesn’t make for a pre­ten­tious expe­ri­ence because the band is care­ful to off­set the trick­ery with a par­ty-hearty sense of fun.  For instance, “Can’t Stand Still” is a catchy lit­tle mover that co-opts Zeppelin-style faux funk into an AOR mood.  Face Dancer can also play it straight when such an approach suits the song:  “Heart’s At Home” is a love­ly tune about the impor­tance of one’s roots that com­mu­ni­cates its heart­felt mes­sage via a low-key, acoustic-dri­ven style while “When You Said” makes an ele­gant, Queen-style closer, end­ing the album in a grace­ful wash of key­boards and vocal har­monies.

In short, This World has got all the son­ic mus­cle of any late 1970’s are­na rock album you can think of… but it’s far more auda­cious than any of those plat­inum stan­dard-bear­ers would have dreamt of being.  Kudos to Rock Candy Records for reviv­ing it in CD form: the son­ics are typ­i­cal­ly pow­er­ful and the book­let lays out the treach­er­ous tale of the band’s bat­tles with its record label in an absorbing style.  If you like your AOR packed with roller­coast­er twists and turns, this is the disc to get.