The Small Faces | Under Review (An Independent Critical Analysis) (Music Video Distributors)

While the Kinks recorded wry, detached observations of the British bourgeois that were critical but oddly objective, the Small Faces sang about their own simple lives: trying not to be harassed by the neighbors on a drunken Sunday, walking stoned through a storybook park—basically being “ravers” in the land of prudes.

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Contrary to popular myth, the Who were not mods. They were punks. After playing a set, they famously smashed their instruments in a violent, spectacular negation (or send-up) of their own musicality. By contrast, the Small Faces simply looked smashing. And, in measured contrast to the Who’s explosive roughhousing, they housed their raw energy in a perfect containment of pop intensity—as though their musical infrastructure had bomb-proof walls. But, most important of all, it was the Small Faces that were the true mods.

Of course, an authentic mod is hard to define; the movement was symptomatic and accouterment-based, comprising everything from Mopeds to working-class pride to a love of American soul music. At worst, the mods were like ancestral yuppies on speed, or epitomized by the humorless arrogance of a Paul Weller, or nasty permutations like hateful skinheads and the Droogs in A Clockwork Orange. But the Small Faces put mod in the best light possible. Indeed, many have accused them of being just that: light. But songs such as the lilting “Itchycoo Park” and “Lazy Sunday Afternoon” achieved the task of being sing-along, drink-along anthems that depicted the English working class better than those of any of their peers. While the Kinks recorded wry, detached observations of the British bourgeois that were critical but oddly objective, the Small Faces sang about their own simple lives: trying not to be harassed by the neighbors on a drunken Sunday, walking stoned through a storybook park—basically being “ravers” in the land of prudes. Half of their hits were intoxicated nursery rhymes; the other half were larger-than-life soul. Steve Marriott’s power chords could shoot the canonized Pete Townshend halfway to the moon, and he sang like a black man twice his age. His songwriting (along with Ronnie Lane’s) was pure mod poetry.

Oddly titled (since the DVD isn’t for pop scholars so much as future fans), the documentary interlaces live performances with critical commentary. One writer proclaims that the band was the quintessential ’60s combo, more worthy of wearing that decade as an emblem than even the Stones or the Beatles. The critics are all British, which, rather than biasing them, makes them more qualified to discuss the band’s cultural roots than, say, David Fricke. And though they were British from head to toe (which, for these very small Faces, means just over five feet), the combo’s music was quite an influence across the ocean on American power-pop. The Raspberries’ “Tonight” is nothing if not a passionate remake of the Small Faces’ “Tin Soldier.” The Pop’s “Down on the Boulevard” has a pronounced Small Faces imprint. And back in England, the group’s image is reflected in everyone from the obscure Gorillas to the Jam and their ilk, to everyone’s favorite pop whimsicists, XTC. You can’t throw a rock (’n’ roll) without it hitting a band that loves the Small Faces.

Never outstaying its welcome, this 60-minute documentary is barely longer than the Small Faces’ own blink-and-you-missed-it career. It curiously lacks any interview segments with the group itself—but, after all, they spoke loud and clear through their music. And best of all, it’s full of rare and raucous performances, both live onstage and in a song-illustrative form that portends the modern music video. (Disappointingly, its “bonus features” are for reading, not watching.) But though the band’s been shortchanged in the history books—which makes the historians look far worse than the group itself—this DVD goes a long way in saving Face(s).

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