6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Wake Up Britain---This album is good..., 12 May 2003
No Yardbirds album divides fans and critics more than their swan-song, LITTLE GAMES. It's the only proper LP recorded with Jimmy Page in the lead guitar slot, and there's so much misinformation surrounding it that it is often dismissed as a "disaster," especially in the U.K. MOJO recently called it uninspired and gave it two lousy stars, despite a superb remix and the addition of several bonus BBC recordings, including a version of "Dazed and Confused." Don't be misled. This album is an excellent testament to the Yardbirds' stretch run as a group. By this time, the group was pared down to a four-piece: Page, Keith Relf (vocals, harp, occasional rhythm guitar), Jim McCarty (drums)and Chris Dreja (bass). Contrary to rumors, the whole group plays throughout the LP, though producer Mickie Most brought in session hacks to record the backing tracks for their 1967-68 A-sides ("Little Games", "Ha Ha Said the Clown", "Ten Little Indians", "Goodnight Sweet Josephine"). The Yardies held sway on the flip sides, however; certainly "Puzzles" and "Think About It" are as reckless, inspired and incindiary as anything the group recorded with Jeff Beck and both could've been big hits if they were promoted as such. The LITTLE GAMES LP had its share of flaws---a scant song list, a lousy mix and a couple of clunker tracks---but its merits are indisputable, even if the material is all over the place (part of its charm, actually). The group's facility with riff-driven pop-rock is evident in McCarty and Page's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor," a great, galloping Mod-rocker with a fab Page bowed guitar section, dynamite McCarty drums and a wistful yet motor-mouth Relf vocal. "No Excess Baggage" is cut from the same chest-thumping cloth as the Animals' "It's My Life" (no surprise---both tracks were composed by Carl D'Errico and Roger Atkins) but it sounds banal, despite a great flatpicking bass from John Paul Jones. "Glimpses" displays what the Yardbirds could really do when left to their own devices. Another dazzling psychedelic chant in the "Still I'm Sad"/"Turn Into Earth" vein, it's highlighted by Page's delirious guitar effects and Relf's warped, distorted recitation of a bizarre verse---rather like the Benedictine Monks grooving to Jimi Hendrix while researching the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The group's blues-rock side lets rip in a pair of raved-up rewrites of Muddy Waters (the ram-a-jam choogle of "Drinking Muddy Water," complete with harp-guitar duel) and Otis Rush (the crunchy riffing of "Smile On Me," boasting a wah-wah fade out). They even shoehorn Will Shade's acoustic jugband novelty, "Stealing, Stealing"---which, ironically, the group claimed songwriting credit for---in giggly, ramshackle fashion. Speaking of copping publishing credits, Page awarded himself an ASCAP byline for his tasteful, Indio-Celtic rearrangement of "She Moves Through the Fair" ("White Summer"). The true group originals, "Tinker, Tailor" aside, were the brainchildren of Relf, whose facility for melodic melancholia gives LITTLE GAMES a folkier atmosphere than any of the Yardbirds other LPs. Apart from conceiving "Glimpses" and "Puzzles," Relf created the hypnotic, two-chord jewel "Only The Black Rose" a quiet, spooky gem full of cryptic lyrics and inventive touches like jingling bells and backwards percussion. Keith's only serious goof is "Little Soldier Boy," an unwittingly silly expression of off-key anti-war sentiments couched in childrens toys metaphors. Most's tacky, indifferent production (McCarty was recruited to imitate a french horn) further torpedos it, though the mix here judiciously highlights Page's 12-string arpeggios. The rest of the LP is composed of BBC tracks. Of these, Dylan's "You Go Your Way, I'll Go Mine," "Little Games" (with a raunchy, off-key Page guitar solo), killer renditions of "Drinking Muddy Water" and "Think About It" and Garnett Mimms' "My Baby" have already been released. The takes on "White Summer" and "Dazed and Confused" however, make their fist legitimate appearance here. Page's noodling on "White Summer" is raw, but nevertheless entrancing ("He's played that machine before," notes John Peel, "you can tell instinctively somehow..."). The mix of "Dazed and Confused" is as murky as a South Carolina swamp, but this strangely adds to its menacing, paranoid atmosphere. Relf's shell-shocked vocal is chilling and Page's swirl of bowed guitar effects resemble nothing so much as the soundtrack of a Hammer Horror film set in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. Considering the BBC habitually wiped the work of great artists (e.g. the majority of Peter Cook & Dudley Moore's NOT ONLY BUT ALSO episodes) to save tape, we're lucky this tid-bit slipped through the cracks. I'm not sure why British rock journalists insist on dissing this album, and this band (guitarists aside), but if they want a debate, I'll say this---LITTLE GAMES towers over the Stones HER SATANIC MAJESTY REQUESTS, the Who's A QUICK ONE, the Moody Blues' flatulent DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, The Move's first LP and anything the Grateful Dead, the Doors, the Monkees or Eric Burdon and the New Animals ever recorded. And the Yardbirds threw this together in three lousy days despite the obstacles presented by Mickie Most. Impressive.