Review: “Face Up” by Lisa Stansfield (CD, 2001)

Today’s POP RESCUE is the 2001 fifth album Face Up by British singer, songwriter, and actress, Lisa Stansfield. Does this album Face Up to it’s responsibility well, or is it more of a confrontation? Read on…

Lisa Stansfield - Face Up (2001) album cover
Lisa Stansfield – Face Up (2001) album

This 14 track CD opens with a gentle strum of I’ve Got Something Better. This slowly gives way to a strong mid-tempo beat and liberal use of some house piano, as that familiar vocal arrives. Lisa has the backing vocals here too, and it really builds into a brilliant and confident start to the album. I’m instantly reminded of the absolute belters from her Real Love album of the early 90s. ‘Turn up the music’ she says in a robotic voice in the mid-section. Despite it being a mid-tempo track, it really carries a wonderful energy with it.

Lead single Let’s Just Call It Love follows this, and this gives us our first clear step of ’00s Lisa Stansfield, set against a 2-step beat that was very popular at this particular time. A meandering bass chugs away underneath the beat, but safely out of the way of Lisa’s vocals. However, whilst the song sounds nice, it doesn’t really go anywhere. Sadly, this was mirrored in it’s UK chart performance too, as it stalled at #48 in the summer of 2001.

Next is You Can Do That, which is a slower track with a funky bass and occasional brass and string stabs. Again, Lisa’s vocals are powerful and rich here in both lead and backing vocals. She’s really coming across here very soulful, like the more chilled out side of George Michael.

That’s followed by How Could You? which bursts open with what sounds like a ’60s big band blast, but is actually the magnificent Irish Film Orchestra in full flow. This is a really wonderful sounding track, and the dramatic contrast between the chorus and verse makes it memorable and emphasises the catchiness of the chorus perfectly.

Candy is up next, and Lisa’s drops a laugh near the start, that after listening to a song about how it’s ‘like taking candy from a baby’ suggests that she might have been channeling the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. A bouncy-squelchy synth drops in alongside an electric guitar. This is a nice song, but it doesn’t travel far.

I’m Coming To Get You follows that, and this feels much more like a pop song. The track is loaded with drum machines and piano, and the lyrics are laden with crushes on a boy, and the chorus has an almost 80’s feeling to it. It’s a wonderful pop gem.

Next up is 8-3-1, which opens with film sampled dialogue from Audrey Hepburn. This was almost the album’s second single, and it really is a shame that it got pulled. This track is disco-fuelled, and would have been a really nice addition to her singles. There’s several remixes of this available, but the original is definitely worth putting in your ears. The title? It refers to ‘I Love You’ – ‘8 letters, 3 words, 1 meaning’ as Lisa explains. At times, the vocals on this remind me a little of Dina Carroll.

Wish On Me follows this, and it is a really dreamy track, laden with acoustic guitars, and a simple bass and beat, as Lisa gets some soft drifting vocals on top. She gets to show off some more tender vocals here, reminding us of the warmth that we’ve heard in her other tracks (often in album So Natural). It’s a nice little delicate song.

That’s followed by Boyfriend which is quite a contrast – utilising the 2-step beat again, this time with a simple synth sequence that shuffles throughout. It’s quite a nice song, and the style sits perfectly alongside Lisa’s vocals and lyrics.

Next is Don’t Leave Now I’m In Love which also opens with plenty of acoustic guitars and some synth pads. The first verse is pretty minimal, allowing Lisa to shine again. Then the track picks up as the beat, synths and vocals evolve further. Again, it’s 2-step/garage inspired, but it works a treat set alongside her vocals.

Didn’t I follows that, and we’re into a heartfelt slow ballad. Lisa opens the track alongside a piano. This allows us to hear her vocal strength and precision, and it’s lovely. A strings section slides in alongside her, helping to build us up to the chorus, and they stick with us as the broken hearted story unfolds. It’s a wonderful ballad.

Titular track Face Up is next, and we’re straight into funk thanks to the sample here from Ramon Morris of First Come, First Serve. This really gives us a funky track, that makes me think a little of The Brand New Heavies. Lisa’s vocals sit on top of this perfectly, as they always do with funkier sounds.

When The Last Sun Goes Down is the penultimate track, and is a mid-tempo track, perhaps a bit paint-by-numbers musically – aside from a few dramatic moments, but it has a nice set of vocals and lyrics.

The album closes with All Over Me and it signals a funky closing of this album. Lisa sings about not wanting to go out, and staying in… perhaps the perfect thing to do after this relaxed album. Still, this track is funky enough to wake you up and get your toe tapping. It reminds me of something you’d find on En Vogue’s Funky Divas album. A good strong ending.

Lisa’s lead single ‘Let’s Just Call It Love’.

Verdict

Over all, this album is home to some wonderful songs, and the efforts to include some 00’s style into the track with the use of 2-step/garage style, as well as the older references (a sort of funky big band, and house piano sound) reminds us that this is the Lisa Stansfield that teamed up with Coldcut for hit People Hold On back in the late 80s, and that was pretty fresh.

How Could You?, 8-3-1 and Face Up are brilliant, and really should have been released as singles, and really show off the brilliance of her voice, and the brilliance of songwriter husband Ian Devaney and Richard Darbyshire (of Living In A Box). Candy is the weakest track here, mostly through boredom.

You can tell from this album, that it would have been ideal for touring with. There’s nothing too far off Lisa’s usual path, but just enough little twists and turns to keep things fresh, and of course those wonderful Stansfield vocals.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!
  • POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 4 / 5
  • 2001 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #38
  • POP RESCUE COST: £2.32 from an eBay seller.

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