The Small Faces were at Decca for 18 months -- long enough to become stars, long enough to sow the seeds of a legend, long enough to cause enough confusion that would color said legend over the decades. The Small Faces left Decca when they left manager Don Arden, the towering impresario who signed the group when they were still in their teens, gave them enough cash to seem flush, found them songs he owned the publishing to, and looked the other way when the boys popped pills. Once the parents of Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, and Ian McLagan stepped in, ties were severed and the band bolted to Immediate, the label run by fellow teen mod renegade Andrew Loog Oldham, so Arden retaliated by cobbling together From the Beginning, a collection of singles, covers, and demos for tunes that would soon show up on their near-simultaneously released Immediate debut The Small Faces (the same title as the group's 1966 Decca debut, for those trying to keep track at home). While the band began galloping toward the psychedelic present on their final singles for Decca -- "My Mind's Eye" is a lysergic journey and "All or Nothing," their first number one, seems eager to shake off the confines of rock & soul -- the switch in labels provides a neat division between the group's early and mature work, so while Universal's 2015 box The Decca Years 1965-1967 lacks the band's biggest and best hits ("Here Come the Nice," "Itchycoo Park," "Tin Soldier," "Lazy Sunday," "The Universal," "Afterglow of Your Love," a run as good as any other British band of the '60s), it nevertheless provides an intensely concentrated blast of the band's mod peak and provides a useful companion to 2014's box Here Come the Nice, which it mirrors to the point of opening with a disc of "Greatest Hits" (aka the singles) before delving into the familiar and the rare.
Although the period it covers isn't the band's peak, The Decca Years trumps Here Come the Nice by virtue of not focusing entirely on the unheard, a move that fates the 2014 set to the dedicated. These five discs contain all the singles, along with the two complete albums (alas, with none of the bonus tracks -- largely mono mixes, but some alternates -- from the 2012 reissues), a disc of BBC sessions, and a disc of rarities. Generally, the sound is improved from the 2012 reissues -- punchier, heavier, emphasizing how the group kicked up a bottomless groove (not much can save the shaky audio of the BBC sessions, though) -- and if there are duplications here, well, that's just part and parcel of listening to the Small Faces; even when they're given attentive care, there's no eliminating the mess. More than the various reissues or compilations, The Decca Years 1965-1967 winds up showcasing just what made the Small Faces special. Where the Who often seemed hell-bent on a stylish destruction, the Small Faces partied, laying into Sam Cooke with abandon, delivering the Arden-forced trifles with more wallop than they deserved, creating a noise so unholy Led Zeppelin ripped it off ("Whole Lotta Love" steals as much from Steve Marriott as it does from Willie Dixon) and then, just as these 18 months drew to a close, delivering a wildly original blend of pop art, overamplified soul, and impassioned rock. Here, on this big and sometimes unwieldy box, that evolution is not only clear, but seems vital.