This reissue goes some way in restoring an unnecessarily tarnished reputation.
Chris Jones 2003-03-20
If you were a young James Patrick Page, session man,the years 1966-7 were aperiod of incredible highs and unbelievable lows. You're regarded as swinging London's top guitarist to call on when your fave-rave pop combo couldn't cut it in the studio. But you're tired of the endless jobbing and you welcome the chance to be the Yardbirds' bass player, working next to friend and hero, Jeff Beck. Ah, but Beck is disgruntled, bored and itchy to move on. One classic single ("Happenings Ten Years Time Ago") with both Beck and you on duelling psych-guitars and, woosh! The band are a four-piece and suddenly you're in the spotlight. By early 1967 you're back in the studio but, under the dread hand of grim popmeister, Mickey Most, recording lightweight pop nonsense for the forgettable (US only release) album Little Games. End of story? Not quite...
This album's been rehashed many times already, particularly as it contains some of the seeds of Page's later work with Led Zeppelin. Yet this particular package finally does away with the shoddy production of yesteryear and replaces it with sparkling clarity. This has its good and bad points. Page's sonic trickery and inventiveness (bowed strings, fuzz madness etc.) shine out in digital format, yet Keith Relf's already somewhat weedy vocals aren't helped whatsoever. Whiney is about the only thing to be said of his delivery. Yet beyond mere historic interest there is still plenty to amuse here.
Page's guitar work was pretty well up to scratch by this stage. Endless gigging Stateside had honed his psychedelic muse and the acoustic work on ''White Mountain'' (actually a copy of Davey Graham's ''She Moved Through The Fair'') was never bettered (and often recapped) in his days with the mighty Zep. Song writing, when allowed by the dictatorial Most, was much improved from the earlier blues rave-ups of their last album (Roger The Engineer). Relf's ''Only The Black Rose'' is particularly sweet, and, as extra live tracks (including the original template of ''Dazed And Confused'') and BBC sessions show, the band was as tight as they'd ever been in their Beckian heyday.
So, not the disaster that legend has it. In fact, were it not for the indifference met in the UK by late 1967, these Yardbirds may well have flown on to better things. Their last B-side, ''Think About It'', features playing every bit as explosive as anything that Page was yet to achieve. Unfortunately it came too late to save the band. This reissue goes some way in restoring an unnecessarily tarnished reputation.