If you’ve heard of Marmalade at all, it’s most likely through hit single and Beatles cover, the frankly awful novelty song Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Certainly, I’d tagged the band as something of a one-hit-wonder – though in fact, the band did have a handful of charting singles. Still, a double album ‘best of’ CD is a somewhat interesting proposition, especially with the two CDs clocking in at nearly 80 minutes each, and culling material from a mere four LPs. You have to wonder what has actually been left off here…
Musically, CD 1 of Fine Cuts is archetypal Sixties pop – jangly guitars, heavily harmonised vocals, and a floating, laid back sound that owes more to the American West Coast than the band’s native Scotland – you’ll hear a lot of the Monkees in this collection. As with much late Sixties pop, there’s a strand of melancholia running through these slickly produced tracks, and while a lot of the music feels fairly anonymous – pleasant, but without any distinctive sound of their own – there are a few stand out numbers. The US hit Reflections of my Life, I See the Rain, Man in a Shop (complete with backward fuzztone guitar) and the funky, bass-led, freak out guitar soloing blues number Mess Around, which sounds like it was recorded specifically for go-go dancers to groove to.
The Seventies stuff on CD 2 shows signs that the band were trying to move on from the beat sounds of the previous decade, but not quite sure where to go. So we have acoustic numbers like The Ballad of Cherry Flavar (still heavy on the harmonies), and country rock flavoured Is Your Life Your Own, while laid back blues numbers like Mama channel Crosby, Stills and Nash so thoroughly that you could probably pass it off as them. Lady of Catrine sounds like Simon and Garfunkel, There’s even the eight-minute Free-style prog-blues workout Can You Help Me – something you imagine would’ve been unthinkable for the band a year or two earlier – and possibly still unthinkable at the time, given that this is a previously unreleased track. But then, tracks like Radancer expose the band’s pop roots, sounding like something the Bay City Rollers might’ve come up with, and Bad Weather and I‘ve Been Around Too Long are proto hard rock. With such a schizophrenic sound, it’s not hard to see why the band didn’t sustain a large following.
There are plenty of covers too – Hey Joe sounds like an easy listening version compared to Hendrix, painfully lacking in guitar brutality and emotion; equally, Piece of My Heart feels very limp compared to the Big Brother and the Holding Company, singer Dean Ford definitely being no Janis Joplin. Other covers include The Bee Gees’ Butterfly, Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man (by way of The Byrds) and I Shall be Released, Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the City and Stay with Me Baby (recorded by just about everyone…) – an awful lot of covers, mostly of tunes that were still pretty fresh in the memory, and none of which bring anything new or interesting to the songs.
At their best, Marmalade produced some top rate Sixties pop music; at their worst, they made some shockingly bland music, and it’s unsurprising that they didn’t ride their success very far into the next decade. While their attempts to adapt to the new decade are admirable – and produced some decent music – the band were always going to be doomed by their past. Unsurprisingly, they soon deteriorated with line-up changes and after a few final, fairly unsuccessful records (none of which are represented here), what was left of the band drifted onto the inevitable nostalgia circuit.
This collection, while hardly essential for the casual listener, certainly collects all the Marmalade you’ll ever need, and is a lovingly packaged set that I doubt anyone involved with the band expected to ever see. If you are a fan of Sixties pop, you’ll probably find this a welcome set…