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The Decca Anthology

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The 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.

8/10

Roger Morton

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 mod-ish brevity.

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 their grasp.

Sublime stuff. 9.

Record Collector, May 1996

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.

**

 

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