Decca Anthology 1965-1967- The Reviews
New Musical Express
SMALL FACES were rubbish.
Overrated, short-arsed, chirpy Cockney fop-mods with... Well
alright, easy now, then they weren't. But the fact that
retro-chic orthodoxy has ruled that anti-SF arguments are
sacrilegious is an amazing cultural glitch. Suggest now that the
seminally seminal quartet of Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Jimmy
Winston/Ian McLagan and Kenny Jones were crap and you're likely
to get punched out of your local indie pub. Probably by a bunch
of wannabes dressed and barneted exactly like the Small Faces
were 30 years ago.
They have, according to the
mod-Stalinist rewriting of pop history, laid down the seeds of
Britpop, provided a blueprint for every taut, gnarly, laddish,
three-minute blaze of guitars'n'sugar band from The Charlatans
to Supergrass, and invented everything about Paul Weller from
his shoes to his Ocean Colour Scene apologies. As their legacy
hits the overkill zone, where even an M People cover of 'Itchycoo
Park' can lend cool to the dancefloor and Levi's go for a
campaign featuring their debut classic 'Watcha Gonna Do About
It?', an anthology of their early years is a timely way to get
some perspective on a band who meant so little in the '80s that
frontman Marriott was playing to empty pubs.
What the anthology provides is a
fallible portrait of a band capable of diamond-sharp pop genius
and churning out wedges of generic do-the-mashed-potato '60s
dance mediocrity and slipping into cheesy tweeness. With 36
tracks-worth of singles, B-sides and oddities, there are plenty
of classic moments. As well as the definitive mod anthems, 'All
Or Nothing' and 'Watcha...', there's the raw Hammond tunefulness
of 'I've Got Mine', the windmill guitar-yobbism of 'E To D', the
full on gum-chewing Weller blast of 'Understanding' and the
blown-away mod freak-out of 'That Man'.
But there are plenty of saggy
moments where the pressures of conveyor belt singles production,
fights with management and force-fed tunes show. The stock of
Hammond-dominated dancefloor twisters are nothing you couldn't
get from The Prisoners meets James Taylor Quartet. 'My Mind's
Eye' is hippie cheese, 'Just Passing' is definitely their
'Laughing Gnome' and Marriott's lost-since-'63 solo single,
'Imaginary Love', is pure 'Teddy Bear' Elvis.
Without the post-Decca years of
flowers'n'amphetamines that freed them from their pure-pop
constraints, threw them in with Stones manager Andrew Loog
Oldham and produced the wondrous 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' album,
it's a one-sided and flawed affair. But Marriott's transcendent
blue-eyed soul singing and the pervading sense of a band kicking
the shit out of the polite mid-'60s formula make it well worth
attending to. Of course, half your favourite bands already have.
Mojo, May 1996
After last year's Immediate
Years box and Repertoire's self-titled two-CD package, this
Decca set charts the Small Faces' first nine singles, their
debut album and tracks from the cobbled-together, '67
label-leaving compilation From the Beginning. While there
is no denying the quality of the 36 tracks here, there is little
to tempt the hardcore fan. Steve Marriott's Buddy Holly-esque
first single, and original keyboard player Jimmy Winston's first
post-Small Faces single, are duplicated from the Repertoire
collection, making this a safe rather than inspired package.
Shame, considering 20-odd unreleased Small Faces are supposedly
lurking in Decca's vaults.
Vox, May 1996
Silence please. Time for a little
respect. Because the Small Faces captured here, in the full
flush of teenage rage and way before they got spiked by the
shadier dealings that troubled them through the latter end of
the '60s, are a joy indeed; Britpop Mk 1 incarnate.
Here, free from the hassles which
would eventually scupper their Immediate career, the Small Faces
possess a cartoonish joie de vivre unsurpassed by any
other pop group of the decade; a flippant oikishness that makes
practically every song here a classic.
Free from the intellectual
agonies of The Who and the hard-bitten professionalism of The
Beatles and the Stones, the Faces sound positively ecstatic in
contrast, adding a comic ebullience to songs like Sha La La
La Lee that their creators (in this case, one Kenny Lynch)
could never have foreseen.
The band's early attempts at
songwriting still sound wet behind their ears. My Mind's Eye
gallops along like daydreaming had, up to this point, been
outlawed, while Hey Girl, blessed with splendidly dirt
growled backing vocals, care of, presumably, MacLagan, thunders
like the teenage Faces had found out all they needed to know
about girls long ago.
But the instrumentals are the
ones that really send the purists' hearts racing, and they're
all here: the frantic see-saw hash of Own Up Time; the
organ blast of Grow Your Own (a veiled reference to
grass) and the titanic Almost Grown, each one a marvel of
So do what you must. Later, it
would dawn on the Small faces that their manager was swindling
them, Carnaby Street was a day-glo rip-off, and that a druggy
concept album might be a good idea. But here they're free of
everything but the music; four bright-eyed mods on the make,
with the sand still in their desert boots from Bank Holiday
beach fights and the keys to the world tantalisingly within
Sublime stuff. 9.
Record Collector, May
Some back catalogues have been
recycled in so ruthless a manner over the years that any new
package - which always promises to be a new-fangled, remastered,
whiter-than-white improvement, of course - can only be
approached with caution.
The Small Faces are a case study
for such travesties. Since their demise in early '69, the racks
have been littered with indifferent, haphazard compilations. The
CD age has served Small Faces fans better; indeed, all the
tracks on The Decca Anthology are, or have been,
available before. But what's impressive about this two-disc set
is the neat, definitive and, above all, authoritative way in
which the band's entire Decca output is tastefully packaged.
Sleeve notes by the band's
biographer, Paulo Hewitt, brighten up an already colourful
inlay, part of a pop-art-influenced design which pays homage to
the band's mod roots, condensing the Small Faces' story into a
bite-sized chunk. Over four volatile years, they recorded for
two record labels, Decca and then Immediate, as they progressed
from East End mod heroes to becoming the objects of desire for
hoards of screaming teenage girls, before burying themselves in
the studio, Beatles-style, to create rock's most successful
pre-Tommy concept album - Ogden's Nut Gone Flake.
The music speaks for itself, of
course. For the first time, the band's recordings are heard in
chronological order of release: both sides of the first four
singles, from What'Cha Gonna Do About It to Hey Girl,
followed by the Small Faces album on disc one: the rest
of the Decca 45s on disc two, from All or Nothing to Patterns,
followed by the exclusive material from Decca's cynical warts
'n' all collection, From the Beginning.
And, just to tidy up the loose
ends, it finishes with Steve Marriott's Buddy Holly-styled
pre-Small Faces single, Give Her My Regards, and original
organist Jimmy Winston's recording of one of the more commercial
songs on the first album, Kenny Lynch's Sorry She's Mine.
To top it all, the sound quality on The Decca Anthology
is stunning and far superior to PolyGram's earlier reissues of
the two Decca albums or See For Miles' Singles As and Bs.
The music is still improving,
too. Stevie's voice is all the more moving for the growing
realisation of the sadness which cloaks the band's story - a
fact brought home by Granada TVs excellent My Generation
documentary. The quality and originality of Marriott/Lane's
songwriting is all the more apparent for the presence of b-sides
like the gentle, sublime Just Passing and the ultimate
freakbeat/soul crossover Understanding - all razor
guitar, "la, la, la"s, impassioned vocals and great,
great pop - and later psychedelic masterpieces like Yesterday,
Today and Tomorrow and the mesmerising That Man.
Such is the Small Faces'
resurgence in popularity that Decca tell us they are planning a
second volume, which should mop up alternate versions that were
buried on rare French EPs, and those radio sessions which still
survive. If only Marriott were alive today to enjoy it.
Q, May 1996
Completist teaser tracks find
Steve Marriott solo in 1963 doing impressions of Roy Orbison and
Buddy Holly - an odd contrast with the snarly r 'n' b mod he
became in the Small Faces. But this compilation proves the child
thesp had discovered his true role. Their early hits, like What'Cha
Gonna Do About It and All or Nothing, were hard-edged
pop, they covered Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson with fiery
conviction, and even knocked out some pungent Booker-T-style
instrumentals. That said, there's still an abundance of filler
and tat in this third rather ragbaggy Small Faces compilation to
emerge in the last six months. That ultimate crowd pleaser, a
label-straddling Greatest Hits remains contractually unlikely.