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.