Monday, 28 August 2017
The Small Faces “78 In The Shade” (1978)
Over Too Soon/Too Many Crossroads/Let Me Down Gently/Thinkin’ ‘Bout Love/Stand By Me (Stand By You)//Brown Man Do/Real Sour/Soldier Boy/You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet/Filthy Rich
‘When the time comes let me down slow, because I couldn’t stand to know you wouldn’t stay…’
Following bands from the 1960s into the 1970s and 1980s and onwards is a little bit like following a football team after their heyday. You want them to do well and still feel loyalty to them, but you’re away of changing goalposts and the fact that they’ve gone down a few divisions since they set the world alight. Though the casual fanbase left once your ‘team’ left the arena there you still are, week after week, longing for something, anything of the old spark you used to see that made you a fan in the first place. You cheer loudly at every tackle, roar at every brave decision and scream your head off when they score a goal – even if it’s an ‘own’ one. Alas by 1978 The Small Faces are a band who really don’t want to be together anymore but haven’t found anything better or long-lasting during their near-decade away. Steve Marriott makes this second reunion album because it’s got a better chance of giving him some badly needed cash than yet another Humble Pie or solo album would. Kenny Jones and Ian McLagan are here because, well, with The Faces split and the only gig open to you backing Rod Stewart on his increasingly boring solo albums what would you rather do? Only Ronnie Lane has escaped the peer pressure and money bribe to stay a solo act after a few tentative early meetings and even his mini victory is short-lived after the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is made the following year (It’s alright to attend your old school for a reunion – but you wouldn’t want to attend classes’ he wittily told reporters after publicly leaving the reunion). The only people pleased to be here are replacement bassist Rick Willis - whose long wanted to be in a band with the size and scope of The Small Faces and writes by far the most ‘mod’ material here – and Jimmy McCulloch, who has such belief and awe at Steve’s vocal talents that he even quits a spell in Paul McCartney’s Wings to be at his side. There is, you see, still a lot of love in the room for The Small Faces – but very little of it is coming from The Small Faces themselves.
’78 In The Shade’ is designed to cash in on the hot long summer of 1978, where this album was released somewhere towards the end. It’s meant to be very much of the ‘here and now’ when the music scene was ‘hot’ again and vinyl singles were selling more copies than at any time for nearly a decade, but in a very contemporary way. We’re meant to see this record as being hot and sizzling, even in the ‘shade’, in the twilight years of the band’s career. Alas, even more than first reunion album ‘Playmates’, this album feels like a wasted opportunity: instead of embracing the noise, aggression and wild thrash of punk (which isn’t far removed from where The Small Faces started) we get limp over-produced versions of simple songs that meander with the weight of a tribute band in a local pub. A year too early for the ‘mod’ revival of 1979 that’s about to make The Small Faces cool again, this is an album out of time, one that clings not to contemporary music tastes or the band’s own glorious mid-1960s legacy but is determined to keep digging in the mines of the early 1970s pomp and silliness, which has resulted in increasingly low pickings for Humble Pie and The Faces alike. The title suggests that the record is hot even in the shade, but alas it spends far too long there with even less moments of charm or beauty than ‘Playmates’ did (and that album really didn’t have many!)
Again, though, you so want The Small Faces to succeed in this strange new world that you cheer them on, enjoying the fact that somehow the band managed to add to their paltry tally of two actual finished albums (plus an unfinished third and an all-new Decca vintage compilation) and accepting this album for what it is: meagre Humble Pie (with an even bigger pastry crust) or rudderless Rodless Faces. Occasionally Marriott forgets his present as a washed-up balding R and B singer and remembers his youth as a gritty emotional singer none of his peers could ever match and his vocal on ‘Stand By Me (Stand By You)’ is almost his last great moment on record, a haunting plea to wife Jenny and maybe his fans too not to abandon him because he has so much more to give, please – even if these are pleas that largely fell on deaf ears. Mac too is getting into the new writing partnership, a much better fit at being the emotional thinker to Marriott’s angry screamer on the pair’s collaborations and offering this set the ghost of Ronnie Lane, looking over them and keeping things ‘real’. The presence of Ricky and Jimmy give the band the confidence to play most of this album live (with Jimmy handling the guitar parts so Steve can sing), which is something that gives this album a far earthier Small Faces touch than the silly pop of much of its predecessor. No one in the band is pretending that they are playing in anything more than the little leagues anymore so even these small mercies seem like small triumphs for The Small Faces. Maybe, you think to yourself for the first quarter of an hour, maybe just maybe this won’t be quite so bad after all…
And then you hit the second side where everything goes wrong and even small mercies sre hard to come by – this is truly one of the worst quarter hours in AAA history. ‘Brown Man Do’ is a hideous funk song, a track that Humble Pie would have rejected for being noisy and which has no place on a generally more subtle Small Faces record. Not to mention the lyrics where Marriott pretends he’s been born with a different skin colour and gets offended by white people slurring him, which even for the late 1970s is just plain weird (if heartfelt: many people assume Steve set out to be rude and cause offence here but that’s not his style – he’d have been a lot more direct if that’s what he’d meant!) ‘Real Sour’ is an ear-sickening screech of country-rock which The Small Faces never had any reason to try in their first incarnation. The folky ‘Soldier Boy’ has a nice deep guttural vocal from Marriott but the song is itself is a badly played, over-enunciated sequel to Small Faces masterpiece ‘Tin Soldier’ played in the manner of a Las Vegas Elvis. Funky band jam ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet!’ is, in the circumstances, a ridiculously overblown title given that it sounds just like Steve Marriott fronting The Faces. And ‘Filthy Rich’ is a final cockney knees up too far, the band sounding smug as they tell us how they’ll spend the money they make from the revenue of this album that’s a zillion miles from where we started in this book, with the eager energy and zeal of ‘Hey Girl’ that put so much effort into merely trying to chat up a girl. Where did it all go so wrong so fast?
Well, The Small Faces mark one, between 1965-1968 were a breath of fresh air: they had something to say, they knew how to say it and music poured out of them effortlessly – ridiculously so for a band who’d only known each other weeks at the time. By 1978 though The Small Faces have memories of what it was like to conquer the world and had done it a second time apart – it must have come as a blow that ten years after having one of the best-selling UK LPs of 1968 with ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ they were now reduced to milking their brand name to make a living. The loss of Ronnie Lane was a far bigger one than they made out, as he was always so much more than just their bass player – he was their heart and soul and without his humanity to soften Marriott’s rougher edges Steve demonstrates his worst aspects not his best, laughing at us rather than with us and shouting for the sake of shouting instead of believing in the message he’s delivering with such fizz and power. Kenney Jones, the drummer who along with Keith Moon and Bobby Elliott can lay claim to having invented punk drumming, is lucky if gets to bang two sticks together across this album. And Mac is still writing for the dry posing of Rod, not the full passionate shriek of Steve. This isn’t a unified band with lots to say, but a group of musicians who still have festering problems with each other over what happened to the band back in 1968 forced to make music together and trying to make enough money to stay afloat. Of course these reunion albums were never going to work – this one especially.
The problems didn’t end there either: having agreed, tentatively, to make a second record (‘Playmates’ had sold better than the last few Pie and Faces records, if never up to Small Faces standards), the band were then delayed by all sorts of problems. First Mac was involved in a nasty car crash so the sessions were delayed until he was better. Then A&M got in touch to inquire about their cut from ‘loaning’ Marriott out to Atlantic Records even though he was still under exclusive contract to them through Humble Pie, oh yes he was – in characteristic form Steve had ‘forgotten’ to tell his chums about this fact, which bit into their meagre overheads for the album sessions. While the sessions were finally underway Kenney was then involved in a second car crash that left him unable to work (which might explain why there’s so little of him on this record, although it’s hard to hear any of these songs played with his characteristic thrash drum style in any case). Marriott must have been counting his lucky stars that the sessions ended before he could become involved in a car crash – instead it was Jimmy McCulloch who paid the ultimate price for the rock and roll lifestyle as, weeks after the release of this album and mere months after being a part of Wings he died, aged twenty-six, from a heroin overdose, leaving his final musical gift to the world the deeply under-whelming solo on ‘Filthy Rich’ that’s best described (like much of the record to be truthful) as ‘careless’. Like many a McCartney fan, I truly believe that had he lived longer he would have been one of the era’s most distinctive and original players, with a grit and rawness that also combined with a real gift for melody – in retrospect, no wonder he and Marriott got on so well as their styles were very similar.
’78 In The Shade’, then, feels like a ‘doomed’ album in oh so many ways. Many of the songs reveal and sometimes revel in this aspect too: the aching ballad ‘Too Many Crossroads’ is about exactly this sense of impending loss and disaster, as everyone else close to Mac and Marriott’s narrator leaves them behind (note the line about how ‘my sister left the circus last Tuesday’, surely a reference to Ronnie Lane’s Passing Show which really did travel with a circus). ‘Over Too Soon’ opens the album with a brief burst of happiness and vigour, but the lyrics tell a very different story – this is a narrator whose only pretending to chat up a girl, his confidence gone, all too aware that even this brief spell is going to go wrong and leave him lonely once more. ‘Let Me Down Gently’ is a hideous country weepie that features every single one of the genre’s traps on a tale of heartbreak and change the narrator doesn’t want to face. By this time Steve is in the process of breaking up with the second great love of his life, air hostess Pam Stephens, and is clearly wondering whether he’ll ever meet a third (in fact he does: Toni Poulten will be on the scene soon and the pair will be married a decade, up to Steve’s death in 1991). ‘Stand By Me’ is a song of devotion that’s sung not with the power of old but the worry of middle age – so many people have left or died, will it happen again with a current lover? ‘Brown Man Do’ worries about what the world is coming to with racism making a comeback, even if it has an odd way of showing it. ‘Real Sour’ is Mac’s take on a love going wrong which is odd timing wise: having divorced once in 1972, to Ready Steady Go dancer Sandy Sargeant, he’s about to marry the love of his life Kim Moon, the wife of Who drummer Keith – sadly the exact same month that her ex dies of an overdose of sleeping pills (is this more than a mere coincidence? Keith never did get over her loss his whole life through following their divorce in 1974, though Kim has a happy ending with a thirty-five year marriage to the keyboardist before her death in yet another car crash a few years ago; the tragedies for this band really do keep piling up since the 1960s!) ‘Soldier Boy’ is surely Marriott heading into another relationship, but in a slower, less passionate and desperate way than he once sounded on ‘Tin Soldier’ on a far nervier sequel this time around where love has surely already pierced his armour too many times to make the risk again. Only on the last two tracks, where Marriott screams ‘you ain’t heard nothing yet!’ and laughs about building his own ‘dirty bitch’ if he was ‘filthy rich’ out of ‘Jane Mansfield’s tits’ does this album sound like it has any of the band’s old swagger and confidence – and even then it all sounds woefully misplaced.
The result is one of the weakest AAA albums of them all: the wrong band writing the wrong songs for the wrong period and performed with a lackadaisical slapdash feel that’s as wrong as music can be. The second side alone is racist and sexist, while it also suffers from those words destined to put a cold shudder down the heart of every AAA fan: the band jam and the unwelcome song sequel. The only good thing to say about this record is that the band didn’t go the whole hog and throw in a saxophone solo and a few Spice Girls covers (though you sense that’s what would have happened had this album come out twenty years later!) As bad as Humble Pie could be some of the time and as poor as The Faces could be most of the time Rod was singing, at least they never ever got as bad as some of the dumb stuff on this album’s second side. And yet…still we cheer, briefly, as Marriott finally learns that pouring out his heart on a real song he actually means enables him to sound better than almost every singer to have ever graced the Earth (as on ‘Stand By Me’), as it hits you just how deep and moving the hard-to-hear words of ‘Too Many Crossroads’ are and how great the band briefly sound as they rediscover their inner mod on ‘Over Too Soon’ and ‘Thinkin’ Bout Love’. This is not a classic Small Faces LP. This is not even close to being a good AAA LP. The mistakes and horrors mean it isn’t even up to being an average AAA LP. This is an album that (certainly if you buy it for completists’ sake at current expensive prices) will make you question your sanity, your hearing and your patience to the limit. It isn’t even as good as the distinctly under-whelming predecessor ‘Playmates’. But it is all far from useless and – for a short time at least – briefly returns The Small Faces to what they always were: a smart band making smart decisions and singing smart songs for a smart audience, not a tired band who need an easy way to make money with the least possible effort.
This is, perhaps mercifully, the end of the actual Small Faces story. From hereon in the band are left to die in peace and quiet and with only Kenney and original keyboard Jimmy Winstun around left to fan the flames it seems unlikely that there will ever be a sixth Small Faces album. Steve will return to a series of increasingly desperate Humble Pie and solo albums (a few joyous moments aside), Mac will start his own ‘Bump Band’ and Kenney will end up replacing good friend Keith Moon in the new-look Who the following year, whilst the most surprising twist of all is that Steve and Ronnie somehow work together again as ‘The Majic Mijits’ in 1981, a much sillier, sunnier album than either if the 1977-1978 Small Faces reunion LPs (which, with typical bad timing and poor luck, ends up being shelved when Ronnie’s m.s. gets too bad for him to promote it and Atlantic get cold feet). As for Rick, he’ll end up switching sides in the great Humble Pie debate and end up working for Marriott’s friend/rival Peter Frampton! The crossroads that the band faced on this album never quite led to any future glory years, there will be no more top ten albums for any of the group bar Kenney’s stint with The Who and their ‘Face Dances’ and ‘It’s Hard’ albums get even more flak from fans than this one does! Somehow, though, you sense that The Small Faces knew this and were only going through the motions. Even so, every now and again, just when all hope is lost, all the band score ‘goals’ in one of their future projects that remind you afresh just what a pioneering, golden, creative band The Small Faces were and why you continue to keep rooting for them, several lukewarm records on. Because Small Faces magic is more special than most magic, even AAA magic, and when this band have things going their way there is no stopping them – the tragedy is that so much got in their way so many times. Even so, these reunion LPs were a bad idea and score maybe an eight/hundred in the shade from the AAA jury, not so much sizzlingly hot as cold and damp.
Though there were seventeen-hundred reasons for The Small Faces split in 1968 – many of which we’ve looked at already – the trigger point was when Steve Marriott asked the others if they could add some female backing singers, they threw a wobbly and he walked. On this final album’s opener ‘Over Too Soon’ he finally gets his way and it’s one of the better tracks on this album in terms of power and performance as the female singers give this recording some oomph (they aren’t, as sometimes credited, ‘The Blackberries’ from Humble Pie but do sound like them – actually they include old AAA friends like Joe Brown’s wife Vicki Brown, their daughter Sam Brown and Stone The Crows’ Maggie Bell – Jimmy McCulloch’s first band). Lyrically ‘Over Too Soon’ feels like the perfect song for a reunion album too; like the Byrds ‘Full Circle’ and CSN’s ‘Wasted On The Way’ it’s a song about missed opportunities finally coming right and the idea that good things don’t last forever so make the most of them while you can. However this Marriott track was surely written for Humble Pie rather than The Small Faces and ticks all the pie’s boxes (gospel-soul-blues-twinges, an OTT vocal and a muscly direct arrangement that’s big on power and riffs and low on melody or subtlety) and this band performance really struggles. People assume that The Faces was just Rod Stewart doing what Steve Marriott would have done but they are two entirely different singers: Steve over-commits, Rod under-commits and Mac and Kenney’s laidback cool, so right for The Faces’ albums, clearly wasn’t working so they get as manic as he did,. While trying to play in the softer manner of their 1970s recordings too. The result is a mess where only Steve feels at home (his guitar work at the opening is highly impressive) and the cruel, ironic way he sings this lyrics brings out the inner bitterness; that this is a reunion that’s not going to last a second longer if he can help it – hardly what you want to hear at the start of a reunion record.
‘Too Many Crossroads’ doesn’t sound much like The Small Faces either, but it’s clearly a good and powerful song whatever it sounds like. Here is Marriott, now aged thirty-one, realising that he’s missed the boat and his life has fallen apart. The fact that he’s back singing this with a group who had only just left their teens behind the last time they worked together pre-reunion must have brought home to him all the grand plans and schemes he once had and that he can no longer dig deep and find the indestructible energy and optimism of ‘true’ Small Faces after so many failures so instead he refuses to hide the truth from us and wallows in just how low things have become. This is the period in Steve’s life, well pre-‘Playmates’ anyway, when he was reduced to poaching in order to feed his family and bought horses cheap to eat as record company politics (the messes left behind at both Decca and Track) held up royalties and Humble Pie crowds began to shrink. It’s also the point at which he and his second wife split up, Steve still unable to move on from first wife Jenny and both sides hit by the increasingly desperate state of their finances. So here he is, a prematurely aged man who should have been in the prime of life, kicking himself for past mistakes and aware that he has to change his life around now or be unhappy forever. It’s tremendously moving for anyone whose ever travelled any musical distance with him and a lyric that’s clearly from the heart, far more so than all the others here though. This song is, though, a collaboration and Mac’s melody is equally inspired, a slow bluesy pastiche of the mod rock and roll he once played so effortlessly, where his characteristic organ runs now feel like they are running at slow speed, all hope and exuberance now gone. The best performance by far on the LP almost – almost! – rescues this LP’s reputation single-handedly.
Mac wrote ‘Let Me Down Gently’ and perhaps in a tit-for-tat move turns in a typical Faces ballad: drunken and bordering on country-rock with its bleary harmonies and weary tempo. Marriott is clearly meant to sing it like Rod would – croon his way through the song through force of personality more than merit – but he’s too good a singer to do that, even while audibly half-drunk, as he spends the performance turning and twisting the song to do things ‘his’ way – adding extra bite or extra innocence on the middle eight for instance. Marriott must have really identified with Mac’s song which is about the collapse of his own first marriage and his slow realisation that things have gone past breaking point, never to be recovered. Knowing that it’s going to hurt this narrator does evertyhting to blot out the pain and pleads with a lover not to let it hurt too much as she storms out of his life, seemingly forever. Again this is such a different kind of song to what The Small Faces stood for that it’s really brave: ‘Tin Soldier’ for instance is one of the most passionate, articulate, assertive love songs ever written, desperate to make things work. This song just droops, so tired from all the pain and nagging that it can’t be bothered to try to patch things up anymore, a relationship that’s clearly fizzled out. Alas, unlike the last track, The Small Faces really don’t ‘get’ this song at all – there’s no space for Kenney and the bleary vocals between Marriott and Mac that are meant to be affecting are just irritating, more like two drunks at the end of the bar and a karaoke machine than two former trendsetting mods. As much as this is Mac’s song, he really should have given it to his partner to sing alone as when he does Marriott is excellent, identifying with the cruel bitter blows of the words and the similarity to his own blues-style wailings with Humble Pie. Alas it’s the fans who aren’t being ‘let down gently’ with this song, which marks a second melancholy middle-aged slap in the face to everyone trying to regain their lost youth.
Inevitably the bounciest, most Small Faces moment on the album comes not from the band themselves but their ‘fan’, Rick Wills. The only song written solely for the band by their new bass player, ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout Love’ points the way to how these reunion sets might have gone, with a feel that’s like both The Faces (the keyboard work and looseness) and Humble Pie (the mass choir and the choppy, assertive feel). The song may as well have been called ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout The Small Faces’ as many nods to the old sound are here and this nostalgic look back at a longterm relationship works just as well when seen from the point of view of a band. The narrator’s spent all these years thinking that what he had was just ‘alright’ but now that he’s older and more experienced in what can go wrong, he’s realised that he got lucky – and now he’s seen ‘the light’ he wants to make the most of his marriage. The massed choir of voices sounds particularly good on this song, the stability that Marriott’s audibly crumbling narrator needs, while Mac’s excited choppy organ lick steals the show, proving that The Small Faces could sound enthusiastic about making music again, however briefly. No it’s not going to win any awards for originality, but this is a sweet song that’s clearly written with some care and it must have been a thrill for Rick as a relatively unknown songwriter (he had been with Roxy Music for a year and had played alongside David Gilmour in pre-Pink Floyd band ‘Joker’s Wild’ but didn’t write songs for either) to hear his song being recorded by his heroes. Oddly, though, one of the things working most against this track is the mix and how low the rhythm section are, with Rick and Kenney’s work barely audible. That is, most likely, Jimmy McCulloch on guitar too not Steve although he does a good impression of the ‘real thing’ (and must have been very cheesed off not to get a credit beyond a ‘thankyou’ on the back sleeve!)
Against all the odds, ’78 In The Shade’s first side ends on another minor classic, as Marriott again pours his heart out on the sad and lonely soul ballad ‘Stand By Me (Stand By You)’. Sounding more ‘pitiful’ than even Otis Redding, Steve pours his heart out on a classy ballad about all things he’s got wrong in the past and all the things he’s going to get right from now on. You just know, though, that however much the effort – however much these words come from the heart – that this narrator is too lost and broken to ever live up to his promises and he even sounds like he half-knows that himself. This astonishing piece of self-angst was surely written about the end of Steve’s second marriage and his understanding of why now two loves in his life had left him, finding his drunken rages and possible undiagnosed schizophrenia so hard to live with. However it also works equally well for the band he left behind, a real song about how he needs the others – and how they need him. In true Small Faces fashion there is hope in this song, that somehow this second chance will lead to a better future that’s just like it used to be and for a spine-tingling moment even Marriott believes it, exploding from his depressed croon into a surge of power that’s astonishing, going from 0-60 in the time it takes cares to switch their engines on or for The Spice Girls to write a line about ‘zig-a-zig-ahs’. But it’s not enough: Marriott’s melody seems to have been deliberately written as ‘too big’ for him and he audibly painfully struggles to get through it, his cigarette and booze habit making his voice croak uncontrollably, really making an effort just to stay in tune where once he wouldn’t have thought twice about singing it. That of course makes this song all the more emotional and brave, as Marriott doesn’t shy away from being a shadow of his former self and elicits our sympathy as he says all the right things – while also demonstrating how hard change would really be after a lifetime of doing all the wrong things. The best and certainly most honest thing on these two reunion records by a country mile.
Alas nothing comes even vaguely close to being average on side two. One of the worst offenders is ‘Brown Man Do’, a song that has its heart in the right place but ends up offending anyway. It is, if you will, the musical equivalent of the TV shows of the era they’re not allowed to show anymore, even though at the time they were described as ‘lefty liberal’ – programmes like ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ and ‘Til’ Death Us Do Part’ (maybe in the future ‘Al Murray The Pub Landlord’) whose sole premise is that they trick people who laugh at the characters being picked on for race or politics when the joke is really on ‘them’. This sort of idea always leaves me feeling slightly queasy – yes most people are in on the joke but the ones who aren’t and take things genuinely get fitred up with extra ammunition and will never believe that what they’ve just seen is a ‘joke’. That’s what happens here, more or less, as a white-skinned (visibly pale in the period photographs) Marriott pretends that he’s black and gets all shirty about what people do to ‘his’ race. This gets truly out of hand when Marriott, white, demands an apology from everyone white who ever hurt ‘his’ race, black. He gets into even dodgier territory when he makes out than Brown men (‘brown women too!’) are ‘bred’ by white supremists for hard labour and are expected never to amount to anything more; hopefully in 2017 you don’t need me to tell you why that’s ‘wrong’ on so many levels, but back in 1978 enough people who’d never met anyone of African-American descent believed that to have taken this song to heart by simply not listening to it properly. ‘Oh yes, they’re born to be slaves – must be true, that nice Mr Marriott said it. How nice he isn’t of that awful long-haired lefty brigade! And of course ‘Here Come The Nice’ and ‘Itchycoo Park’ aren’t about drugs really, this nice sweet white band wouldn’t do that!’ Even without the lyrics this is a poor excuse for a song anyway, a low key strut that tries hard to come off like George Clinton’s Parliament but barely out-funks The Spice Girls. Nobody in the room cares about this song, which so desperately needs some work being done to it, but nobody cares about that either so what we get instead is a tired plod sung by a half-asleep Marriott at a tempo at least half the speed it should be. The worst song on the album and this book and very nearly the whole AAA canon all at once, along with The Hollies going disco, The Beach Boys’ horrifically noisy song about transcendental meditation, Paul McCartney going post-modernistly twee and The Kinks’ similarly misguided attempts to make Jesus black and sing in a Jamaican accent. Horrid.
Mac’s ‘Real Sour’ sounds a little bit better than his other contribution to the album ‘Let Me Down Gently’ as it doesn’t have the same ‘real sour’ harmonies, but in truth it’s also quite weak and poorly performed. Another lumpy country-rock song, it features the keyboardist’s very hoarse lead vocal on a song of devotion to new girlfriend Kim that should be moving, but somehow insincere. It sounds, to be honest, like a ‘Ringo’ song – listen to the boom-thwacka drumming, the simple key-of-C piano and the lyrics that don’t progress much beyond a ‘gee honey I’m crazy for ya!’ lyric. It doesn’t help that Mac will indeed play much like this when guesting on Ringo’s better-than-average LP ‘Stop and Smell The Roses’ in 1981. Given that The Small Faces were once trading blows with Lennon and McCartney, this is not an auspicious place to be and without Marriott adding much except the odd Duane Eddy style guitar twang the whole thing falls flat. This should be an emotional outpouring of love – instead it sounds like a hack band performing a hack song and even a sweet little keyboard lick can’t manage to make this song interesting. I have no idea why this song of love is called ‘Real Sour’ either – surely that’s more what ‘Let Me Down Gently’ sounded like?!
‘Soldier Boy’ is the one song on side two that might have worked. A more spiritual, hymnal, reflective take on ‘Tin Soldier’, it even features many of that song’s same chords but played in an older, more battle-scarred way. This lover off to war, though, is older and far more easily hurt as a slower, older, wiser Marriott finally makes good use of the Small Faces name to record an ‘apology’ to first wife Jenny, his original source of inspiration. ‘You were my first love, you’ll be my last love’ he croons, ‘I’ll never make you blue!’ However note that word ‘croon’ – it’s not what you want to hear from a sequel to one of the most passionate rock and roll love songs ever really is it? And Marriott is not a good crooner, sounding even more at a loss on this sickly sentimental reading than he did aged sixteen hiccupping ‘Send Her My Regards’ like the sweet cleancut kid straight out of stage school he was back then. Also, in order for us to get the ‘tin soldier’ reference Marriott has to twist and turn a lot: the end of this song reveals that it was written about a girl singing for her soldier and pleading for him to come back home. Why not just reference the original and make the narrator male, his little girl’s tin soldier suddenly brave enough to ask her out and ‘sit with you!!!’?! The slow schmaltzy reading really doesn’t work, either as a sequel to the energetic brilliance of the original or as a track in its own right – who wants to hear Marriott creaking his way through this song at such a slow speed while the other Small Faces do their best to become a rock and roll equivalent of Mantovani? With just a quick re-write and a rocket up it’s backside this could have been the real nostalgic winner on the album – instead it’s very much the song that got away. And dear God, it’s still by far the best thing on this album’s second side…
‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’ is at least uptempo and features The Small Faces jamming. Or does it? Those there at the sessions say the guitarist on this song is really Jimmy McCulloch doing an impression of his hero, while Marriott gets to concentrate on roaring out some hackneyed lines about how the band still have so much to prove, so many places to go, so much to do. I’m not buying anything yet, not after the way the last eight tracks have turned out and true enough it all turns out just to be bad posturing: this is a song that talks the talk but can’t walk the walk and never gets out of it’s pretty primitive groove all the way through. The more Marriott screams and the harder McCulloch plays the worse it gets: bravado performances like the ones The Small Faces made into an art form back in the 1960s have no right to be heard on empty songs about nothing that have nothing to say and you suspect that Marriott really had all the time in the world to amend his lyrics to this band jam had he wanted to – but he didn’t. The irony is that he goes out of his way to pretend the opposite, boasting that by making this album he’s ‘jumped in at the deep end’ – when nothing could be further from the truth in reality on this lazy, sloppy album. There’s a real air of ‘well, that’ll do’ about this album’s second half and never more than here, as another three minutes are padded out the easiest way possible. Only Jimmy’s guitar almost – almost! – rescues the show.
The album then ends with ‘Filthy Rich’, a song that seems to be taking the mickey out of us ‘suckers’ for buying this rubbish while sounding just enough like the cockney knees-up of ‘Lazy Sunday’ for people to vaguely recognise it. Marriott’s narrator is dreaming about all the things he’s going to do with ‘our’ money. Will he pay the bills, treat the wife, sink some money into his own recording studio to create art?! Is he heck! Instead Steve boasts about making himself a ‘flithy bitch’ out of all his favourite parts who will do what he wants her to do instead of all the fickle girls around him and then he won’t have to spend a penny on them. He also lists lasciviously all his favourite parts including ‘Jayne Mansfield’s tits’ without any regard to the human beings they’ve come from. Charming, I’m almost grateful this album sold such a paltry amount so the closest he could ever have come to buying his dream cyber-girl for real was a cheap tamagotchi. At least in the early days songs like ‘Hey Girl’ and ‘Whatc’ha Gonna Do ‘Bout It’ at least pretended that the girl was interested too, but this song of sex with a familiar looking robot doesn’t care about them and just wants to spend our money getting a quick fix for the narrator. Even in 1978 this song seemed slightly suspect – nowadays it would probably get Marriott arrested. The whole result is sung with the same perky don’t-mind-me-I’m-just-naughty style as songs like ‘Toe Rag’ and many lesser songs from the Humble Pie canon, but at least they usually have some sort of charm – Marriott comes over here as a drunken sexist loser. And that is about as sad an end to The Small Faces catalogue as there could possibly be.
Overall, then, ’78 In The Shade’ is an album of two halves. One is kind of OK: there are more peaks on the first side than there was on either side of ‘Playmates’ and for two exquisite songs The Small Faces stop pretending that they are turning back the years long enough to speak from the heart on a couple of moving songs about what’s changed since then for them and their broken hearts. It’s such a shame that ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Too Many Crossroads’ ended up being left behind on this lumbering LP where so few fans got to hear or appreciate them, being perhaps the last great Marriott moments (along with Humble Pie reunion songs ‘Fool For A Pretty Face’ – ironically far more like 1960s Small Faces than anything here – and Lennon tribute song ‘Teenage Anxiety’). You can kind of tell, though, from the lethargic atmosphere in the room that all this band have seen better days and that virtually all their success stories are behind them now – as well as Steve whose never croaked so badly, Mac has never sounded so wooden or Kenney so slow and tired. The Small Faces may only be in their early thirties but they all sound fed up of life and embarrassed to be scraping out a living going back to their teenage days of super-stardom rather than finding anything new to say. They say that reunion albums are born out of love, madness or desperation – this pair started out with a bit of love during a fun music video shot to the strains of ‘Itchycoo Park’ in 1976, but was really born out of economic necessity which ended up as a form of madness. Alas there’s no ambition here other than making an easy cheque, two great songs apart. Far from being ‘78 In The Shade’ this is an album way behind the times and more like an album below freezing, one where the sun seems to have permanently gone in, Lazy Sunday has turned to evil Monday Morning, where The Nice no longer call and where Itchycoo Park has been shut for repairs, leaving a pile of nothing else but bills. The Small Faces name deserved better – and as a fan so do you.