Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Deluxe Edition of Small Faces' 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake'


Small Faces had really hit their stride by 1968. They'd moved from Decca to Andrew Oldham's more sympathetic indie Immediate. They'd finally cracked the U.S. top twenty with “Itchycoo Park”. Now they were poised to create their defining statement, which would distance them from their early bubblegummy hits and put them into serious competition with The Beatles, Stones, Who, and the rest. A conversation with Pete Townshend about his latest pet project inspired Small Faces to bin the covers of “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “Be My Baby” they'd recorded to pad out their next L.P. and spend some time crafting a narrative suite. Glued together with some inspired gibberish from double-speaker extraordinaire Stanley Unwin, the “Happiness Stan” suite would be Small Faces’ magnum opus and Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake their most convincing bid for major artistdom.

What set the album apart from the similar psychedelicized concept albums of the time are its unflagging humor, complete lack of pretentions, and fidelity to the hard R&B and R&R that was Small Faces’ specialty. Ogden’s was a smash sensation in the U.K. and a particularly well-loved album in a year crowded with such well-loved items as “The White Album”, Beggars Banquet, Electric Ladyland, Music from Big Pink, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Everyone was gaga over the novelty round cover done up to look like a tobacco tin too. Too bad that Small Faces’ most sweeping triumph also signaled their end.

Ever unsettled and hardly placated by Ogden’s’s success, Steve Marriott insisted on bringing Peter Frampton into the band to give it a fresh boost. When the other guys resisted, Steve and Pete went off to form Humble Pie. The remaining Small Faces hooked up with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood and ceased to be Small. With a recording career that lasted a scant four years and three official albums, Small Faces had ceased to be, leaving Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake as their defining statement.

Considering the album’s weighty rep, it’s appropriate that Charly Records has also given it the most elaborate treatment of any album in the recent Small Faces reissue campaign. Housed in a round box and expanded to three discs, Charly’s deluxe, limited edition Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake is a pretty impressive looking package. It would have been nice if the set was in an actual tin tin, but it's still a neat little container, if a little tight to uncover. Inside are a few variations on the original round artwork, photos, and band member profiles, which are collected in a lightweight foldout booklet and on individual, coaster-style discs. The hand numbering indicating your standing in the limited edition run of 5,000 is scrawled on the back of a reproduction of Mick Swan’s psychedelic artwork (I'm almost dead center at #2,455). Oh yeah, there are some CDs too.

As was the case with those previously released deluxe editions, the sound here is aces. The expansion, however, is a bit overinflated. We get the album presented in stereo and mono, each mix on its own disc and undiluted by bonus tracks. The bonuses are relegated to their own disc, which basically recreates the album’s original running order with alternate mixes that uncloak few revelations and some backing tracks. The most interesting things here are a mix of “Lazy Sunday” with more prominent acoustic guitar and electric piano that is probably the clearest stereo version I've heard, the backing track of a chunky alternate take of “Mad John”, and best of all, the backing track of “Happiness Stan”, which reveals a panorama of amazing textures, particularly the Prokofievian string pizzicatos and Kenney Jones’s titanic drumming. “Every Little Bit Hurts” (“Be My Baby” is apparently lost), the backing track of a funky raver called “Kamikhazi”, and what sounds like “Ogden's Nut Gone Flake” played backwards round out the disc.

As soon as this tracklisting hit the Internet, fans came out of their hidey-holes to start the inevitable griping orgy. If this is the last word in Small Faces remasters then where is “The Universal”? Where is the Ogden’s era b-side “Wham Bam Thank You Mam”? Where is “Donkey Rides a Penny a Glass”? Where are all the tracks (finished and unfinished) Small Faces cut for their aborted final album 1862? As the griping got heated, Tosh Flood (a project assistant on these reissues) took to the comments section of The Second Disc to ensure fans that all this and more would populate a four or five disc box set— without any overlap with these recent deluxe editions— sometime in the near future. So while Ogden's Nut Gone Flake brings an end to the Small Faces story, the Small Faces reissue-campaign story still has a few chapters to go.

For now, you can get the deluxe edition of Ogden's Nut Gone Flake on Amazon.com here:

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