Small Faces Small Faces, et al(Universal Music UK) Buy it from Insound
Small Faces - Deluxe Edition (Decca)
Right out of the gate, the Small Faces stood apart. Sure, it’s easy now to look back and say this was another mod band ripping off the Who. Pete Townshend thought as much when he first heard them. But taking a closer look, they achieved a level of R&B intensity on their first album that would take everybody else 2 or 3 years to catch up to. Take the track Come On Children, one of the band’s earliest songs, which has the kind of barrelhouse power the Who would finally explore in Young Man Blues on Live at Leeds. Perhaps the most famous example is You Need Loving which Led Zeppelin (I hope your sitting down) famously ripped off to make Whole Lotta Love. The original is just as heavy and closer to the source to boot. The band never would develop the kind of pop chops Townshend had, but even at this early stage they could crank out a catchy tune with the best of them, as on Sorry She’s Mine or You Better Believe It, which have classic British Invasion hooks. But what really makes this album stand out is the skilled fusion of classic R&B influences with frazzwhap electric guitar that even forecasts Jimi Hendrix. Listen to the instrumental Own Up Time and you’ll be convinced Jimi was sitting in. Throughout, Steve Marriott stands out as the driving force, pummeling his guitar and his vocal chords to the breaking point.
From the Beginning - Deluxe Edition
When the band moved to Immediate, Decca issued a singles/leftovers compilation that turned out to be every bit as essential as the blistering debut. It opens with the comic operatic moan on the Dell Shannon cover, Runaway. But that is followed by the pure pop perfection of My Mind’s Eye, a cop from the Christmas tune Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and wonderful slices of early psychedelia, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and That Man. This seems due to the growing influence of the more whimsical Ronnie Lane on the band’s output. Marriott’s soul influences are still found in abundance, but you get the sense of the band stretching out into new territory, expanding the palette. I’d imagine this is where the purists get off the magic bus. The band’s, particular Lane’s, writing will be blamed for the failure to crack the US market with the dismissive “too English” label. But it’s more likely that the band was a little too rough and tumble at this point, and the buying public didn’t really catch up until a few years later. The regular album closes with Just Passing, which looks forward to where they would end up in 1967.
Small Faces - Deluxe Edition (Immediate)
Here the palette expands even further. Psychedelia, folk and music hall all are present as influences in equal measure to the R&B material. Lane continues to assert himself, and shows his trademark vulnerability in the touching Show Me the Way. Marriott gets to work out the vocal chops that have distinguished him, on My Way of Giving and Talk to You, but again, fans who come to this band from the soul angle have less and less to work with. The band’s considerable talent, energy and passion is now focused on experimenting with new styles and unlike so many other bands left behind as times changed, these guys seem totally comfortable with their evolution, at least musically. History suggests that Marriott was less than thrilled with their reputation as a pop band; back then, pop was defined by its ability to successfully incorporate diverse influences. Songs like Eddie’s Dreaming highlight the range on display, reminding this reviewer of the Beach Boys circa Wild Honey. Then they can turn around and drop a trippy delight like Green Circles, or the bouncy All Our Yesterdays, on you. Also included here is the wonderful song Itchycoo Park, which seemed to bridge the Lane and Marriott sensibility better than any other song they recorded. The experimentation would only get bolder on the next record.
Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake
It’s ironic that the band would come apart directly after this album, because much of it represents the peak of the Lane/Marriott songwriting partnership, where the individual styles were blended seamlessly. Songs like Afterglow and Song of Baker demonstrate this effectively, and Long Agos and Worlds Apart explicitly takes Itchycoo as a model, with wistful sections leading into hard driving ones. On the other hand, Lazy Sunday and some of the “concept” portion of the record represent Lane’s whimsy run amok. The suite is a Lear-esque fairy tale about a boy named Happiness Stan who searches for the other half of a half moon. The conceit succeeds for being comprehensible and charming, unlike Tommy, which makes little sense and succeeds mainly through sheer inspired songwriting. After starting the tale with another strong blend of dandy psychedelia and muscular rock, they throw in one of Marriott’s throaty workouts with Rollin’ Over, which sounds like it could belong on any of their albums to date. A similar dichotomy is played out on The Hungry Intruder and The Journey, counterbalancing the fey with the ballsy. Mad John expertly combines the two, while HappyDaysToyTown is pure music hall, as its name implies. Overall, it’s an enduring accomplishment, and one can only wonder what might have been if Marriott hadn’t said 'fuck it' on New Year’s Eve 1968.
I’m new to the Small Faces so I’m hardly a completist. Much of what is available on the discs of bonus material consists of alternate takes or mixes (ie, stereo vs. mono). Any serious fan will probably be thankful all this is included, though it hardly seems essential. However there are a few tracks not otherwise available on the albums like the keenly essential Hey Girl and Itchycoo Park,singles, as well as the worthwhile Here Comes the Nice and Tin Soldier. Other gems in the extra material are E Too D and the groovy instrumental Picanniny. I don’t have original releases to compare the current remastering to, but I can tell you these mixes have all the presence and power the band’s songs deserve. It does not feel overly compressed, though it probably hangs out there on the edge, which is as it should be.
Needless to say, if you’re looking to get into the Small Faces, or if you’re a Who fan who has never even heard of the band, you need all of this. The band resides in a nether region set aside for hardcore sixties rock fans to discover, and probably suffers the fate the Kinks would have suffered if they had broken up in 1968. This is a damn shame since I confess they got by me for way too many years. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Buy this collection!8 May, 2012 - 14:20 — Alan Shulman