Small Faces

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Playmates Review

by Ralph Heibutzki

Nothing went right when the Small Faces regrouped for old times' sake (and a few quid, too). Founding bassist Ronnie Lane quit when recording started, bickering with original producer Shel Talmy left the band adrift, and the album appeared when punk audiences didn't give a hoot about four mods with a glorious past. What else went wrong? Well, the songs fall shy of the old glories, all right, but they're not without their charms. Most of them sound half-finished and half-baked: some stronger production would have been wise. Then again, since nobody made any pretense of a band effort, Jones, McLagan, and Marriott could follow whatever individual obsessions they wished. This laissez-faire policy naturally yielded mixed results. "High & Happy" is a ramshackle opener, though its brazen lyrics ("Let's outrun the constable, Jack, and do another line") show the train wreck that Steve Marriott's life was becoming. The only cover ("Lookin' for a Love") is surprisingly perfunctory for such a soulful group, and Marriott's voice also cracks to alarming degrees on his Elvis-cum-country weeper "Saylarvee." Some decent moments manage to triumph over the problems. McLagan and Marriott collaborated effectively on the R&B ballad "Never Too Late" and the low-key closer "Smilin' in Tune," which effectively lays out the older, world-weary Small Faces viewpoints. "Find It" and "Drive-in Romance" milk different sides of that signature funky organ groove to good effect, and "This Song's Just for You" is a nice low-key country ballad. "Playmates" itself best sums up the group's mood: gutsy, but resigned ("We could dance and sing/Now all we have are memories to pass on"). In the end, only hardcore fans will care one way or another, although to be fair, this was probably the best album that the band could muster at the time.

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