Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Deluxe Editions of ‘Small Faces’ and ‘From the Beginning’

Small Faces were the quintessential Mod band, one of England’s biggest hit makers of the ‘60s, and recent inductees into a certain turgid popularity club. Ample evidence that their wonderful recorded output should be ripe for double-disc deluxe editions, right? However, there are but four Small Faces albums, and they have been reissued and reissued and reissued since the dawn of the compact disc. But wait. Those myriad reissues have all shared one significant flaw: they’ve all been assembled from second-generation tapes. UMe’s new Small Faces deluxe campaign corrects this wrong, pulling their classic albums from the original masters. The sonic improvement will stop you in your tracks. I have Decca’s expanded edition of Small Faces from 2006, and I always thought it sounded pretty damn great. Playing it alongside UMe’s new edition reveals an anemic, overly trebly master. The UMe version sounds deep, dimensional, and very, very heavy.

This is great news, since Small Faces is easily one of the best debuts of the British Invasion era. Even The Who’s My Generation wasn’t quite this raw, probably because Roger Daltrey had yet to perfect his primal scream, while Steve Marriott sounds like he shrieked his way out of the womb. The band’s song craft is still rudimentary, but the bone-pulverizing performances of “What’Cha Gonna Do About It”, “Come On Children”, “E Too D”, and “You Better Believe It” make up for any compositional shortcomings. Plus, there are stunning covers of Sam Cooke’s “Shake” and Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love” (shiftily retitled “You Need Loving” and credited to Marriott and Ronnie Lane, a con Led Zeppelin would later double down on by renaming it “Whole Lotta Love” and claiming the composition as their own). As far as the original material goes, the hit “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” is probably the best song here, even though the guys thought such bubblegummy fare was beneath them.


Small Faces had an even more legit gripe when Decca slipped out one last album as the band made its move to Immediate Records in mid-’67. From the Beginning is a crass cash-in in the mode of The Stones’ Flowers, consisting of outtakes, tracks only intended for release on singles, and retreads from their previous album. Also like Flowers, From the Beginning is pretty great. As a Small Face, it’s an understandable embarrassment. As a Small Faces fan, it’s a cool comp assembling fabulous hits like “All or Nothing” and “My Mind’s Eye” with great psych cut-outs from their Immediate debut like “That Man” and “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”. The group must have been infuriated that the L.P. included unfinished versions of songs from their second eponymous album. It’s still fascinating to hear these rough takes of “My Way of Giving” and “(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me”. A version of Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t You Do It” poorly sung by ex-Small Face Jimmy Winston is disposable in light of superior covers by groups like The Who and The Poets, but an unexpected cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” is exciting and emotive. Again it’s easy to sympathize with the band’s disgust over the operatic flourish tacked on by ousted manager Don Arden. It’s also impossible not to crack a smile when Arden’s ridiculous voice kicks off the album.

As was the case with UMe’s superb Kinks reissues of last year, Small Faces and From the Beginning are nicely annotated and loaded with bonus tracks, though these are less revelatory than the ones on the Kinks discs. The best bonuses are the non-L.P. singles, such as “I’ve Got Mine”, “Understanding”, “Patterns”, and “I Can’t Make It”. There are some neat stereo mixes, a backing track of of "I Can Make It" with some nasty fuzz guitar, and one of “Show Me the Way” that really showcases its otherworldly beauty. But unsurpassable masters of some of the most unsurpassable music of the ‘60s is the reason to repurchase Small Faces and From the Beginning, which you can do using the links from Amazon.com below:



Coming soon: Deluxe Editions of Small Faces (Immediate) and Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.
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