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The Jam heralded the "Mod revival" of the late Seventies. Their early music was "formally" punk - short, ass-kicking songs with a lot of aggression - but unlike so many of their brethren, the Jam never even tried to conceal that all they were doing was reviving the forgotten traditions of Sixties' garage-rock and mod-rock. The band even wore mod suits for their live shows instead of mohawks and ripped T-shirts, and it looked like band leader Paul Weller never once went to sleep before saying a prayer to his guardian angel twins, Ray Davies and Pete Townshend. So for one thing, the Jam were at least brutally honest with themselves and their audiences.Predictably, their hyper-Britishness prevented them from gaining anything more than a cult following in the States, and their "clean" image, at least compared to the Sex Pistols and the like (hey, whenever Paul Weller says "fuck" you start questioning yourself whether he really means it, very much like his idol Pete), prevented them from gaining a huge popular following - but their songs were listened to and their albums readily made the charts, in the UK at least, for almost all of their existence. The problem with the Jam was that they symbolized "middle of the road"; it was not quite clear which audience they were appealing to, as the 'rough' part of the world preferred something rougher and the 'soft' part of the world, well, you know. And perversely enough, it's often the same problem I have with the band. The strongest side of the Jam is their songwriting. Paul Weller isn't what you'd call an absolute genius, but he obviously spent aeons listening to his old Beatles, Stones, Who, and Kinks records, and eventually managed to sink some of that songcraft into his own heart and mind; and considering that he had a really sensitive soul and a real aching desire to write tuneful and soulful songs, plus a lot of sincere youthful idealism, that was a darn fine combination that worked. No post-modernism, no nihilistic sarcasm or obscure "anti-message" in the work of the Jam; Pere Ubu these guys were not. In that respect, I guess the Jam are the best bet for somebody weened on old Sixties' classics if they want to make the transition to "newer" music without bursting one too many nerves. They have - generally - good melodies, which progressively get better as they venture further and further away from their "hardcore" (well, "hardcore" for '77) early albums; and Weller is an excellent lyricist. Actually, maybe an even better lyricist than his idols; lyrical standards had skyrocketed by the Seventies, and somehow Weller manages to raise the same social and psychological issues in his songs as Pete and Ray used to earlier, and still come out without reusing stagnant cliches. That said, the Jam also have a lot of problems going for them. Their lack of original ideas is to be taken for granted, but that doesn't mean it cannot constitute a problem. Seventies' teens who'd never been exposed to the roots of the Jam idolized them, and for good reason; if you were a middle-class nerdy boy suffering from the usual teen angst problems around 1977-78, then the Jam were the perfect band for you. Now that the Seventies are long gone and the Jam have joined the legion of "classic rock" bands on par with everybody else, unburdened by the cultural leash of the here and now, their music definitely pales in comparison with their predecessors. Even if we discard the classic "who did what first" question, there still remains the fact that the Jam were extremely conservative with their sound, for instance. Paul Weller always uses exactly the same guitar tone and more or less the same power chord-based approach, except for a dry sprinkling of acoustic ballads on later albums; always sings in the same, rather unpleasant, even yucky, gruff snarl; and his rhythm section is powerful and fiery, but that's about it. Another thing is that, as good as the Jam's songwriting was, I'd say writing a good song was something of a quest for Weller. Almost literally a quest - on the early albums, his way towards writing a good song was through "letting go of his hatred", because all too often, we have Jam songs that are fast ravenous punkish workouts but pass you by with nothing but a vague feeling of "that was real pissed off" behind your back (typical case: This Is The Modern World). Then, on later albums, his quest was to go behind the lyrics, to express his specific emotion in the instrumental/vocal melody rather than in printed words (typical case: Setting Sons). Granted, we must be fair and acknowledge that with a band of three instruments and a band willingly declining to experiment with production, extra instrumentation, overdubs, etc., it's really a wonder that they did manage at least three excellent, first rate quality records, and even their worst album is still listenable. Even their closest competitors, Midnight Oil, with whom the Jam have a lot in common - the barebones aggression, the anger and the social protest, etc. - had at least these corny synths to back 'em up. The Jam, instrumentally, were not much more evolved than the Ramones (in terms of numbers of instruments I mean, not in technical terms), but laid claim to a lot more, and their claim was essentially just. I guess my main problem with the band lies in the fact that I've never been easily swayed by the factor of "romantic aggression". I have a similar problem with early Clash and with punk in general, I guess (not the Ramones, though, whose main strength never lied in romantic aggression, for that matter). So, if the idea of angrily clenching your fist with an intelligent look on your face at the same time seduces you regardless of any other factors (melody, diversity, etc.), feel free to punch up some of these ratings - you'll probably want to rate In The City and Setting Sons at least much higher than me. But then again, you might wanna lower the ratings for Sound Affects and The Gift, so we'd be even here. Lineup: Paul Weller - vocals, guitar; Bruce Foxton - bass; Rick Buckler - drums. Simple as that. Would you rather be 'live or dead?
Listenability: 3/5. I
want more hooks in this kind of music. It ain't exactly Henry Cow, after
Resonance: 4/5. Weller has built his band's entire career around resonance, after all, but that doesn't mean he can't ever sound contrived.
Originality: 0/5. Don't crucify me, Jam fans. This band NEVER did anything remotely "innovative" - which in a way makes them even greater than they are!
Adequacy: 4/5. No big problems here, except that every time Weller says "fuck" or "cock", you can still feel his inner mother spanking his wussy ass.
Diversity: 2/5. Really, these guys only started getting diverse towards the very end of their career.
Overall: 2.6 = C on the general rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977Record rating = 7
Hey look at us! We're rebels and we wear suits! And we beg, borrow, and steal!Best song: ART SCHOOL
Track listing: 1) Art School; 2) I've Changed My Address; 3) Slow Down; 4) I Got By In Time; 5) Away From The Numbers; 6) Batman Theme; 7) In The City; 8) Sounds From The Street; 9) Non-Stop Dancing; 10) Time For Truth; 11) Takin' My Love; 12) Bricks And Mortar.
In the beginning, the Jam were a band whose aims were pretty obvious. Paul Weller liked the Who a lot, so much that he didn't really grow himself a penchant for dirty T-shirts and iroquois hairstyles, preferring mod suits instead. Paul Weller also liked the nascent punk revolution a lot. And since the Who were the original punks, after all, it's pretty obvious that these two tendencies went perfectly hand in hand.But here's the kicker: the Jam didn't do the chainsaw buzz. The sound you hear on this album might have been pretty typical of multiple punk bands in 1977, the ones that never managed to break it big, but it's not really the classic punk sound of the Ramones or the Clash. Heck, even the Sex Pistols did the "true punk thing" better. This sounds far closer to your average classic Sixties garage rock, 'mild' three-chord rockers with occasional - gasp - syncopation and occasional - gasp - attempts at making hummable riffs with discernible notes. Apart from a little roughness over the edges, then, and the fact that the lead singer yells and yelps in an ugly, unattractive growl that few of even the nastiest Sixties' garage rockers ever allowed themselves, In The City brings nothing new to the foreground. And it loses when compared to just about anything: if it's anger, fury and rage you're after, The Clash blows it away, and if it's anger-filled melodic pop songs you're after, well, the Who did it better by definition - after all, it was much easier to overrule the "hook necessity" thing in 1977 than it was in 1965. Another thing is the general monotonousness of the sound; again, one probably shouldn't complain about every song sounding the same when we're dealing with a punk record, but since this is not your average 'epochal' classic punk record, I might as well expect something eyebrow-raising and I don't get it. The Ramones went for mind-boggling catchiness and astoundingly hilarious minimalism; the Clash - overrated as their debut is - went for a pull-all-the-stops pissed-off approach; and even the Sex Pistols had, oh I dunno, the, uh, Cockney accent? Whatever. In The City is pretty colourless in comparison. What does save it, however, is Paul Weller's songwriting. Sometimes I think it might have been better for him to simply skip the punk thing and go straight for All Mod Cons; this way, he would have been saved from the trend-hopping thing and allowed to fully unleash his songwriting talents at once, without having to let them through the punk rock grinder. But then again, let's face it, there is some nice punk rock on here. About half of the album, to be sure. First off, the trio of the Jam sure could play - that goes without saying. Everybody bashes the 'Batman Theme' on this album (obviously a tribute to the Who and the Sixties in general - the theme was perhaps the most favourite instrumental for garage bands to cover), but you gotta love the rhythm section - the drums 'n' bass just burn on that short, a minute-and-a-half explosion. Granted, it doesn't take a genius to hold down that simple - if rather fast - bassline, but they play it like they mean it, and you gotta appreciate a band that plays the Batman theme like it means it. A perfect little punk rocker if there ever was one, heh heh. Likewise, they really do justice to Larry Williams' 'Slow Down', even if the Beatles' version was more inventive - and you didn't have to deal with Weller swallowing half of the words nd blurring the other half into total obscurity, if you pardon my expression. Everything else is Weller originals, and while the guy still had some way to go (especially in the lyrical department: for the most part, the lyrics are just a typical brand of nihilistic punk rock cliches, but no matter how Mr Weller tries to convince us of his being The Pissed Off Guy No. 1 with explicitly placed, ultra distinctive 'why don't you FUCK OFF' grunts, I still don't see him really fit for this kind of attitude), a bunch of songs have either clever guitar riffs, or clever vocal hooks, or, very rarely, both. Thus, 'Art School' is a hell of an opener; and at least the Jam do not kickstart their career with a direct 'I Can't Explain' rip-off like the Clash did, although, granted, it's not like the basic four-note riff of 'Art School' took a couple of years to come up with. But it's a good riff, and the energy punch is there all right, and there's the word "shit" when it comes to discussing media, so yeah, cool. Some slower songs sound like the Stones trying to write some weak-assed original around 1965 - 'Non-Stop Dancing' would be a swell thing for a Stones outtake, so it works for the Jam as well. 'I've Changed My Address' opens up with the chords of the Beatles' 'What Goes On', but essentially sounds more like a solid, um, Pretty Things rocker. 'Away From The Numbers' is one of the few non-punk-pretending songs on here, going for four minutes non-stop, borrowing some Byrdsey jangle and featuring a pretty soulful vocal from the usually gruff Mr Weller. Well, he's still gruff on that one, but in a tender way, like a cannibal with a little girl. I'll also say a word for the often underrated 'Takin' My Love' (with a terrific double-tracked riff that should be treasured), and the album closing 'Bricks And Mortars' with its sonic cacophony really stands out as something darker and more disturbing than everything else on here. And yeah, what about everything else? Well... second-rate garage rock is second-rate garage rock and will always be. Like I said, these guys seem to be kinda stuck in the middle of the road: either you go ahead and vent yourself to the bone, or, if you wanna be milder and more respectful of your predecessors, you gotta be more diverse. Maybe stick a piano in there somewhere. Or a ballad. Or a kazoo, whatever! Aw, you gotta be more creative than that!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977Record rating = 6
More punk, less subtlety. Less subtlety, less memorability. Cool stupid growling, tho'.Best song: HERE COMES THE WEEKEND
Track listing: 1) The Modern World; 2) London Traffic; 3) Standards; 4) Life From A Window; 5) The Combine; 6) Don't Tell Them You're Sane; 7) In The Street Today; 8) London Girl; 9) I Need You (For Someone); 10) Here Comes The Weekend; 11) Tonight At Noon; 12) In The Midnight Hour.
Right, let's go and do it again. Second verse, same as the first, which one is the worst? There's not a single song on this record that would wow me over, and you know, these are songs that are supposed to be memorable, after all. It's straightahead melodic punk (no, that's not an oxymoron) tunes with verses, choruses, occasional middle eights... you know, the usual stuff. So why does it all leave nothing but a scattered mess in my brain upon fourth listen and further, I ask you? Because the songwriting sucks, plain and simple.I'll tell you about the only number on the album that kinda gets me going. That's 'Here Comes The Weekend', a tune much more solid than the stupid Moody Blues synth-rocker of the same name, and you know why? Because after the usual socially conscientious verses comes the explosive chorus, culminating in the 'The weekend is here!' scream, and that's what I call a well-placed, comfortable, and emotionally powerful hook. You really get to feel for Mr Weller and his hard life as the common blue-collar guy... er... yeah, well, and the melody is intelligently resolved at that. For once. And I like the opposition between the optimistic "weekend is here!" and the pessimistic "the weekend is dead!" conclusion, which shows that Mr Weller knows a thing or two about the Power of Parallelism. In direct contrast, 'The Modern World' is as pathetic an album opener as could be. It essentially sounds like all those Elvis Costello fillerpieces on Trust: energetic guitar rock without actually a discernible/interesting riff in sight and not a single vocal hook. Even the chorus remains unresolved (what kind of an ending is 'we don't need no one to tell us what's right or wrong'? What kind of a stupid cliche is that, too? These guys wear mod suits, they're supposed to be intelligent!). And once again, I don't even see how they can get by on the 'angry vibe' alone: something like 'Clash City Rockers' simply chews 'The Modern World' up and spits it out from the ninetieth-storey window. 'I don't give two fucks about your review', Weller yells out, and if you ask me, it's a pretty nifty precaution - in a perfect world, any kind of review would have annihilated the guy. But of course, 1977 was not the perfect year to annihilate your average punk rocker. Now to be fairly honest, there are songs on here with enough potential. It's just that the Jam's sound blows so much - the same one-guitar/bass/drums attack on every goddamn track (occasionally a second guitar is overdubbed, but they sure don't make it sound much different from the first one) - that everything is reduced to the same bland formula. And don't blame everything on the hurried release; this is the usual Jam sound. Had they bothered to, well, have some different guitar tones at least, it might have come off better. Thus, 'Standards' is a potentially excellent mid-tempo rocker, but all it has going for itself in the basic melody sense is a two power chord riff, until it gets to the chorus, at least, where the riff gets a bit more complex and Weller's nasal articulatory tract substitute growls out 'standards rule OK, standards rule OK'. It's a nice enough song, I guess. Likewise, the ballad 'Life From A Window' is the closest so far this band has come to "moody", with Weller actually getting dreamy and romantic just like his idol, Pete Townshend, occasionally would in among all the three-chord bashers. (The standard Ray Davies connection doesn't yet become actual, in my humble opinion). And 'I Need You', with the most obvious Sixties-throwback title and melody, is luvverly, but the guitars just don't do anything except for, you know, being there and preventing me from hearing the beautiful ooooh ooooh vocal harmonies. Ripped off from the Beatles, I guess, but let's be forgiving, let's not go living in the past. But again, for every decent song like that you get yourself some absolute pointless filler like 'The Combine' or 'London Girl' (unless you count that obnoxiously shouting out 'a la la la la la la London Girl! London Girl! London Girl!' constitutes a hook - but not in my book). And the filler gets so annoying that I actually look with relief at Wilson Pickett's 'In The Midnight Hour' which closes the album. Now that's how you write a good song, even if hardly anybody would want to take the cover instead of the original. This stuff doesn't even need a supah dupah arrangement for you to notice its greatness. In all - very rushed, very uneven, very slight, very uninspired, although, granted, the punch is strong, the energy is good, the band's interplay is near-perfect and Weller's influences are paid some direct and unconcealed tribute. Besides, 'Here Comes The Weekend' does deliver the goods, so don't count this as a complete waste. But I've been told the album even got bad reviews at the time (in 1977, can you imagine?), so obviously, not many people regard it as a particular highlight in the Jam catalog. Fortunately, this turn of events finally convinced Weller and Co. that maybe undiluted punk rock wasn't the natural way to go, after all.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978Record rating = 9
Graduation from Junior Punk School.Best song: IN THE CROWD
Track listing: 1) All Mod Cons; 2) To Be Someone (Didn't We Have A Nice Time); 3) Mr Clean; 4) David Watts; 5) English Rose; 6) In The Crowd; 7) Billy Hunt; 8) It's Too Bad; 9) Fly; 10) The Place I Love; 11) 'A' Bomb In Wardour Street; 12) Down In The Tube Station At Midnight.
This is so much better I almost find it hard to believe this was created by the very same band, and at first only the never-changin' adenoid-troubled growl from Mr Weller serves as the necessary link from the past to the present. But apparently, this is not so hard to believe once you realize the main difference is that Weller finally dropped all of his desires to be a fiery punk rocker and instead decided to pursue his heart's desire, to be a true Mod sympathizer without the obligatory Seventies punk sheen. It's not like there's no energetic rockers on the album, of course - it's just that they aren't really punkish (in form, I mean: spiritually, The Jam were always a pretty pissed-off bunch of guys). All Mod Cons sounds pretty lightweight and easy flowing, without the strained, pumped out, insincere anger of 'This Is The Modern World' or any other faux-punk shite like that. And now that Weller pays his homage to Ray Davies as well as the ever-present Pete Townshend, the music becomes more diverse, not to mention better produced and better arranged. All Mod Cons? Great pun, but essentially not true - with all the navel-gazing on this record, including endless quotations from the Who, the Kinks, and the Beatles, there's not too many "modern conditions" present.But, once again, the Jam weren't innovators, they were songwriters, and by 1978, Weller has tremendously grown as a songwriter. Whether it was just gradual maturation or the fact that discarding the punk sheen gave him more ground for true creativity, all the songs here are at least a notch higher in quality than on the previous albums; even the filler isn't annoying, rather just less memorable than the other songs. The lyrics become better as well, as Weller progresses from mere teen angst to romanticism, social portraying and relatively profound introspection. In short, nothing short of a miraculous - yet somewhat predictable - metamorphosis. All Mod Cons is not without its problems; no matter how much raving Jam fanatics would try to convince me that the album hits just as hard or even harder as all those Who and Kinks albums it's been influenced by, all I can say is, Paul Weller doesn't say a single thing that hasn't been said before, and improves on nothing that hasn't been done better before. But that doesn't excuse me from not noticing the talent herein, or not recognizing how well the songs in question are written. Or how they are performed, for that matter. The fact that the Jam managed to turn their version of the Kinks' 'David Watts' into a British hit can only be compared to Todd Rundgren hitting big with his version of 'Good Vibrations', I guess - an immaculate recreation of a golden classic by a newer act. But where Todd hit his own 'big' by achieving the technically impossible, that is taking an incredibly complex song and carefully reproducing it bit by bit, Weller hits his own by recreating the very spirit of the song - it's not the exact sonic details that are important, it's the jerkiness and the shakiness and the Britishness and the dedicated character impersonation thing. I still have my doubts on whether Paul Weller was really into the punk thing at all; I have virtually no doubts that Paul Weller was, soul and body, into the Britpop thing of the Sixties. He lived out that schtick, if ye pardon my French. When he tries to be Ray Davies himself, he doesn't do nearly as well - 'Mr Clean' is no 'Mr Pleasant', after all, but it's still a very neat little pop-rocker with a charming, almost seducing, sly little paranoid guitar riff stealing the show and lyrics that are a bit too straightforward for the post-modern epoch, I guess, but still biting and, uh, exciting. 'In The Crowd' is even better, a stark pro-individualism anthem with a magnificent squeaky echoey guitar line reflecting Paul's vocals on the chorus ('...when I'm in the crowd, I don't see anything') - although one could question the necessity of the lengthy jamming coda to the song, with the backwards soloing and all. My guess is Weller is trying to imitate the effects of 'Australia' on that one. It still sounds pretty cool to hear this artsy 'psychedelic' ending on an album by a band that was concentrating on strained three-minute punk rocking stuff less than a year ago. Weller even goes as far as to have a couple friggin' ballads on the album, including one purely acoustic showcase, 'English Rose' - and you know if a guy can write a touching acoustic ballad, the guy's got talent. And this one is sure touching, with its funny dialectal chorus ("for nothing can ever tempt me from she") and tricky jazz chord sequences that occasionally sound not unlike Pete Townshend's gymnastics on his 1968 ballad 'Sunrise'. Likewise, the chorus of 'Fly', with its soaring slide guitars, which appears out of nowhere and disappears in an instant as well, is near gorgeous. I'm not going to name every song on here - just for short, 'Billy Hunt' is catchy as hell, and 'It's Too Bad', as everybody and his grandmother has already noticed, steals some chord sequences from the Who's 'So Sad About Us' (and the guitar jangle from the Beatles), but is still charming - but there ain't a single real duffer, apart maybe from the opening minute-and-a-half of the title track which is just a few scorching lyrical lines over an angry sounding nothing (hey, I've just described 70% of This Is The Modern World). Not a single song hit me like a ton o' bricks, though, not on first listen at least: if you're well-versed in Weller's influences, it'll take you a long time to get rid of the notion that Paul just rips off his idols. Well, I mean, he does rip off his idols, there's no denying that. But I guess the punk period did have its use, because there's a certain sharpness and loud primal minimalistic punch here that you won't find on any Sixties albums. So I can easily understand how some people would prefer All Mod Cons to, say, The Who Sell Out or Face To Face - even if these people are wrong, because every little aardvark on this planet knows the Sixties had it all and everything else was just a load of derivative garbage. At least, until Mick Jagger came along and showed everybody the way with his revolutionary, mind-expanding classic Goddess In The Doorway. It's been getting better since then.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979Record rating = 8
You Melody man? You Vicious Social Commentary boy? You make your choice NOW.Best song: PRIVATE HELL
Track listing: 1) Girl On The Phone; 2) Thick As Thieves; 3) Private Hell; 4) Little Boy Soldiers; 5) Wasteland; 6) Burning Sky; 7) Smithers-Jones; 8) Saturday's Kids; 9) The Eton Rifles; 10) Heatwave.
If you have a legacy to live up to, you might as well follow it to a tee. And Paul Weller does; since both Pete Townshend and Ray Davies started releasing concept albums eventually, why can't he? Setting Sons is the band's first (and fortunately, last) foray into conceptuality, although it's certainly closer to "meekly conceptual" stuff like Face To Face than any of Paul's predecessors' rock operas. Mainly because Weller abandoned the concept in mid-air, and his idea of making a record about three old school friends and their different fates and careers in the modern world remained carried out only for about half of the album. (Peculiar guess: Mr Weller might have learned that Gentle Giant had already recorded a similar album, called, um, Three Friends, and decided to back off lest he got sued for plagiarism. Then again, not sure if he even suspected of that record's existence).Anyway, the record is pretty good and powerful, but nowhere near as interesting in the overall sense as All Mod Cons, nosir. The only musical advance as such is Weller's ongoing conceptuality, and as you might know, conceptuality can often act as your worst enemy, making you concentrate on the lyrics and message more than on the music itself. Every now and then I get the idea that most of the melodies here were cobbled together in a matter of milliseconds: "Now there you are guys, here are some mighty fine character impersonation lyrics I've huffed and puffed upon all day, now play something ass-kicking and I'll try to sing along". On the other hand, there are almost no traces of the previous record's diversity: this is all straightahead garage rock again, granted, more intelligent and more carefully crafted than This Is The Modern World, but still suffering from the same old problems. Of which lack of originality is obviously the most painful thing for me; every time I listen to, say, 'Little Boy Soldier', I can't help but be reminded of all those classic Kinks songs like 'Yes Sir No Sir', and instead of sitting for three and a half minutes thinking, 'hey, what a cool little multi-part anti-war number', I sit thinking, 'hey, I believe I'll go and put on Arthur right after the song is over... dang, why does three and a half minutes time take so goddamn long?' Lack of hooks is another problem, and again a very actual one. You know, if after sitting ten times through a song I still can't remember how it goes, there's gotta be something wrong on this planet of ours, and I dare say it's not something wrong with me - yeah, this might seem presumptuous, but then again, I was raised on short poppy songs, not on twenty-minute long avantgarde jams or neo-ambient, and this was pretty much my main cup of tea for years. And yet there's nothing positive I could say about bland, hookless, undiscernible numbers like 'Thick As Thieves' or 'Burning Sky'. All the anthemic and ultra-sincere qualities of the former can go to hell with me - I might as well be listening to 'Thunder Road', then. It's generic power-chord based garage rock, just as, uhm, Bad Company's 'Simple Man' is generic blues-based soft-rock. Why should I prefer one to another? That said, let's move on to the positive things in our reviewing lives, or else you might be wondering why on earth I'm giving this an 11 and not a 5 or something. The Jam were tremendously inconsistent, for sure, but that doesn't mean they had a bad sound going for them, and every once in a while even Setting Sons catches fire. In fact, once the melodic background even remotely starts approaching the intensity of the lyrics and Weller's rebellious snarl, the result is a masterpiece. 'Private Hell', for instance, begins with a grim glummy bassline not unlike something off a Motorhead album, and for once, Weller falls upon a really rich apocalyptic guitar tone - this is as close as the band ever came to having a chainsaw buzz, but all the power chords and the white noise actually come together in a memorable riff - not just a memorable riff, a frantic, thrashing musical apocalypse. And coupled with Weller's ominous, subdued utterings 'private hell... private hell', each one followed by a nervous drumburst (the song itself is about the routine life of a housewife - the band's own 'Mother's Little Helper'!), the song really gets me going. Likewise, 'Eton Rifles' is easily the Jam's best political number, and one that could significantly compete with The Clash's best attempts at the political genre - lyrically, even better, considering Weller's ever-improving use of metaphoric images; and if you're not sick already of the song title serving as the main hook on Jam songs (on so many occasions!), you'll definitely enjoy the way Weller screams 'Eton rifles! Eton rifles!' in a half-appraising, half-scared tone. Other melodically strong songs would include 'Wasteland', a pretty poppy 'interlude' carried by an excellent recorder line and featuring cheery organs in the background, even if the lyrics deal with living in a 'drab and colourless world', but then again, the power of love will overcome even the drabness, I guess. Say, doesn't the lyrical message kinda remind you of a certain Who song, by the way? The one that starts with 'Baba' and ends with... well, you prob'ly know what I'm talking about, and if you don't, turn off your Jam immediately and go listen to the source first, you naughty impertinent boy. To cut a long story short, 'Girl On The Phone' is a cute New Wavish rocker that rolls along nicely but never makes you gasp in awe; Bruce Foxton's 'Smithers-Jones' is the album's most "unique" cut, carried forward by a string quartet of all things, but just as unmemorable as anything else actually; 'Saturday's Kids' has a good beat, but no hook apart from a few perfunctory la-la-las; and the cover of Martha and the Vandellas' 'Heatwave' which closes the album is excellently done, but doesn't fit in in any way, and enough with the Who imitations already, guys (it's done very close to the Who's version on A Quick One, just as 'Batman Theme' was done very close to the Who's version on an obscure B-side, now available as the bonus track to, er, A Quick One)! We know your influences, we really do. That said, Setting Sons has gone down in history as the Jam's masterpiece, so go ahead and roll yer own if you don't trust me. I'll be the first to admit the magic of 'Eton Rifles' and 'Private Hell', but the rest is related rather to Weller's improvement as a lyricist and the bleak pictures of everyday life he offers, even if I can only reiterate that essentially, Weller says nothing that hasn't been said by the Kinks ten years ago. But! He does say it with a lot more energy and aggression, that's for sure, and as far as late Seventies' pissed-off records go, I don't think there's a lot of competition for it, even considering the sheer number of pissed-off records at the time. The Clash, maybe, another album I'm not a major fan of. I must admit I could be a little biased here; see, the formula "fuck melody, just sing about life's troubles with a lot of feeling and a lot of pretentious lyrics" is quintessential for Russian rock, whether good or bad, and I've heard so many melody-less generic bores of the kind that I'm automatically sceptical towards anything like Setting Sons. But at least I hope I have given you some impression of what that thing sounds like, anyway.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1980Record rating = 10
Yep, THAT's entertainment, all right!Best song: SET THE HOUSE ABLAZE
Track listing: 1) Pretty Green; 2) Monday; 3) But I'm Different Now; 4) Set The House Ablaze; 5) Start!; 6) That's Entertainment; 7) Dream Time; 8) Man In The Corner Shop; 9) Music For The Last Couple; 10) Boy About Town; 11) Scrape Away.
The Jam made their best album at a time when their best album should have already been made, but you can never really tell with people if their absolute main strength lies in how many catchy, solid hooks they have written rather than in how many different musical conceptions they have introduced. Paul Weller might have written his masterpiece fifteen years later for all I care. He happened to do it in 1980. Who really cares? Oh well, then again, there is a corner of popular opinion where it is actually treated as a letdown after Setting Sons - reducing the ominous tension and even, my gosh, introducing filler. Well, I guess 'Music For The Last Couple' could be treated as filler in that it serves no purpose, and there sure IS less tension than on Setting Sons. But when it comes between tension and well-written songs, I choose you-know-what.No more conceptuality and no more disfocused, lyrically-encumbered songs (not that the lyrics on here suck or anything, but they're not the primary moving force of any given song - although it is still wise to arm yourself with a lyrics sheet because sometimes they do give the songs extra power). No bull, just music. And the first side of this album is easily the best side of music I've ever witnessed from this band - relatively diverse, sharp and hard-hitting. 'Pretty Green' opens the scene with another bassline of the kind Lemmy could kill for (well, maybe not, it's rather heavily syncopated, the Lemmster didn't like pauses in between notes) - and the "green", of course, is buckazoids rather than hash, so it's a vivid piece of lyrical imagery set to a terrific vocal melody... well, maybe not exactly terrific, it's just so forceful and repetitive - in a good way - it gets me going. 'I'm gonna put it in the fruit machine, I'm gonna put it in the juke box, it's gonna play all the records in the hit parade...'. Never mind all the power chords this time; when there's a forceful, all-penetrating vocal hook, the power chords can actually be a tremendous asset. 'Monday' begins almost like a David Bowie number, have you noticed the similarity between Bowie's and Weller's voices? Small world we're living in. It's a very pretty ballad anyway - beautiful chorus, with Paul slowly rising higher and higher until the whole thing is resolved in a cute Beatlesque/Kinks-like move. And is that a harpsichord I hear in the background at that very moment? Mr Weller, you goddamn imitator. You redeem yourself with the two-minute punk explosion 'But I'm Different Now' that takes us back to the happy days of 1977 and maybe even earlier, because there's no rage or anger, just an ecstatic, unbelievably cool guitar tone; it's as close as Weller ever came to the Ramones' kind of image, except that even in his angriest moods, Weller is still drawing his inspiration from classic Britpop rather than from the most basic form of rock'n'roll. A solid long epic tune is required to sort things out, and that's 'Set The House Ablaze', which easily tramples anything on Setting Sons into dust. A rambling protest against skinhead 'indoctrination', not very coherent or easily understandable but convincing anyway, and ending in a two-minute nightmare of clashing guitars and paranoid background vocals with at least half a dozen different kinds of feedback in the background (not to mention all the merry whistling, so effectively pumping up the general creepiness). And never forget about catchiness! And never forget about relevancy! A real monster of a song, and obviously, it couldn't have been done earlier on simply because Mr Weller knew so little about the intricacies of true atmospheric production. I'd even go as far as to call it the best Jam song ever written, recorded, and produced, and one of the closest attempts to recapture the apocalyptic, scary mood of 'Gimmie Shelter' - so there. It is then followed by 'Start!', a song that not only borrows the bassline from 'Taxman', as everybody and his grandmother knows, but also the main guitar line, in such a direct way that it's a wonder 'em Fab Four didn't sue. Then again, by 1977 there was this fashion thing about defiantly quoting from the classics - I mean, just look at Ray Davies circa that time, and after all, Paul Weller was Ray's disciple. But in any case, that doesn't mean the song isn't enjoyable. The background saxes do it good as well. But, of course, it's easily overshadowed by 'That's Entertainment', which takes incredibly cliched elements such as generic folksy acoustic strumming and generic "modern society sucks" lyrical imagery and merges them together in an ubelievably cool fashion. That's part of Bob Dylan's secret - take something tried and true (a "classic" stolen folk pattern, for instance) and cross it with your own original vision, and hoopla, a new chef-d'oeuvre is born. And since by 1980 Paul Weller's vision is slowly, but steadily becoming more and more original, the formula works here as well. The second side is a bit of a letdown - the corny instrumental 'Music For The Last Couple' does nothing except show Weller's mild interest in contemporary New Wave rhythms (XTC and suchlike), and 'Dream Time' is fast, but boring, unless you accidentally become fascinated by the lyrics. Still, none of the songs are bad, and it does boast another minor pop gem such as 'Boy About Town' (that 'see me walking around...' introduction is easily the most amusing bit of "starry-eyed innocence impersonation" in the entire Weller catalog), as well as the fan favourite 'Man In The Corner Shop' with its memorable na-na-naing in the chorus, and the spooky closing rocker 'Scrape Away'. It just lacks the "everything is perfectly present in the perfect dose" perfection of the first side. It's kinda sad Weller couldn't let the moment last through the entire record, but if he did that, he'd have made a perfect album, and even his principal gurus had a hard time coming up with a perfect album. So, according to the Jam's own standards, this is an undisputed masterpiece, and probably a fitting end to an epoch - shutting off the naive youthful punkish arrogant idealism of the late Seventies. With Sound Affects, you could tell the fury and madness of 1977 have pretty much become extinguished. It's time to lurk in the corner and make sarcastic remarks about how everything sucks rather than actually trying to change it. But, you know, that's entertainment. Duh.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1982Record rating = 9
A little diversity never hurt anybody, even if you can't sing R'n'B for shit.Best song: TOWN CALLED MALICE
Track listing: 1) Happy Together; 2) Ghosts; 3) Precious; 4) Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero; 5) Trans-Global Express; 6) Running On The Spot; 7) Circus; 8) The Planners Dream Gone Wrong; 9) Carnation; 10) Town Called Malice; 11) The Gift.
So the Jam went down in flames, but not before releasing this extremely solid swan song. Again, the energy and adrenaline are reduced, but this time with a clear purpose - to make room for Weller's ever-increasing love towards soul and funk music. Not that the record is in any way seriously similar to Weller's later work with the Style Council, though: the isolated R'n'B numbers are still wisely interpolated with the basic rock and Brit-pop elements which made up the reputation of the band in the first place. Thus The Gift presents the Jam at their most diverse, and although not all of the songs are good, you rarely get tired of the monotonousness that plagued most of Weller's work.Thus, the album starts in a more or less traditional fashion, with a jangly pop-rocker ('Happy Together') mixing the joy of reconciling with one's true love with the sorrow of unpleasant reminiscences and the joy of Weller's inspired and moving lead vocals with the sorrow of discordant and ugly backing vocals. The song is essentially good, but then the album moves into the utterly nondescript boredom of the slow tuneless shuffle 'Ghosts' that seems to have been recorded only after all of its hooks were dropped down a hundred-storey building. (For some reason, I have to give out warning that the song is often regarded as a highligh by fans - an utterly ridiculous notion if you ask me, and one that can only be explained by the fact that most of these had developed a serious crush on Paul Weller, which is not something the PMRC would approve of. So be warned, Rich Bunnell! :)) Yet just as you start wondering if the album will ever actually pick up some steam, along comes 'Precious' and demonstrates to the surprised world that yes, you've been waiting for that moment all your life, but the Jam can actually do funk. Weller's ugly oh so white vocals almost kill off the song's potential (especially when he raises his voice to that really annoying high pseudo-scream), but the funky wah-wah guitars rule mercilessly, and so does the sax solo. It's hard to imagine a former punk band trying their hand at a bombastic funk tune, but they pull it off, and they pull it off with verve. Maybe it ain't no Funkadelic, but dammit are those guitar tones terrific anyway; and it's all the more amazing considering that up to now, we have never ever heard one funky wah-wah workout from Mr Paul. Hey, is it really him playing? Wonderworld is here. After that, The Gift really begins doing its thing. Song after song is either just catchy or just pleasant or just terrifically played, like 'Trans-Global Express', which isn't really a song as much as it's just a merciless shake-your-hips groove. Again, the vocals kinda suck (this time mainly because they're recorded terribly low in the mix and prevent one from purely enjoying the music without actually being audible and discernible - now that's a bummer), but the overdubbed guitar interplay is excellent and the saxes and complementary sonic overlays are all in their right places. And then there's Bruce Foxton's instrumental 'Circus' which to my ears sounds like a post-modernist pseudo-Zappaesque variation on the Lambada theme, and that's really hilarious. As far as experimentation goes, there's also the Latin-tinged 'The Planners Dream Goes Wrong' with the immortal lyrical line 'If people were made to live in boxes/ God would have given them string/To tie around their selves at bed time/And stop their dreams falling through the ceiling' (I wonder how much sweat Weller had to exude to come up with something that clever... not that Paul ever was a dumb guy, but he's not often quoted for Dylanesque wit). Or the half-ska, half-R'n'B 'Town Called Malice', where in among all the usual social critique Weller drops a chorus line directly melodically stolen from one of his covers (see now: '...this town called malice!' - 'got a heat-wave!' Comprisci?) and which features some of the greatest tension-building tricks in the entire Jam catalog. But then there's also the ultra-sincere ultra-experimentation free ballad 'Carnation' which gotta count among the most emotionally moving songs Weller ever wrote (even if there's something about rhyming "pocket" with "socket" that really bugs me... ah never mind, one of those 'pissed-off inner poet' complexes, I guess). That's a pretty gruesome lyrical picture of himself Mr Weller paints here anyway ('I am the greed and fear and every ounce of hate in you'... really? Thanks for telling me), but hey, life isn't all pansies and sissies. Great weeping organ line throughout, too... where was that instrumental diversity two years ago? Setting Sons could have certainly benefited from all that. In fact, the only two songs that do nothing for me are the already mentioned 'Ghosts' and, strange as it is, the title track, which for all I know is just a rewrite of 'Town Called Malice' without the cool Martha & Vandellas rip-off element. And if you ask me, those lyrics - about moving and getting the gift of life and giving it to me once and giving it to me twice - would have worked better when set next to one of those fierce funk workouts than to a basic, generic, cliched three-chord rock beat. Besides, I can't even hear the goddamn guitars because they're mixed in three times quieter than the drums and the "whoohoo" noises. A bad conclusion to an otherwise excellent swan song, but let's not opt for perfection in the case of a band as initially flawed as the Jam. They almost did their best on this one. You could even say, they kinda "lost their virginity" here by adding funky beats and saxes and what-not instead of the OH SO REFRESHING guitar-bass-drums attack. You could say they sodomized their original sound. You COULD do it! But I certainly won't. I'll leave the dirty jokes to somebody else.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1982Record rating = 7
I dig 'em all right, I just don't know why I have to.Best song: SET THE HOUSE ABLAZE
Track listing: 1) In The City; 2) All Mod Cons; 3) To Be Someone; 4) It's Too Bad; 5) Start!; 6) Big Bird; 7) Set The House Ablaze; 8) Ghosts; 9) Standards; 10) In The Crowd; 11) Going Underground; 12) Dreams Of Children; 13) That's Entertainment; 14) Private Hell.
The Jam split up because Paul Weller got tired of his bandmates. That happens, you know. Especially when you start feeling that the others in your crew can't catch up with your vision, and it just so happened that overnight you started calling your vision Vision, with a capital "V", and then you found out that your bandmates have slept through the caps while in junior school and can't seem to get what the heck you're talking about. That's just the time to say goodbye.But before you say goodbye, you sometimes get the urge to deliver a last gracious farewell to your fans. The Who did a farewell tour (and then another one). I don't know if the Jam had a farewell tour, but they sure had a farewell live album. And that's what it is - a farewell live album. Because if you want to make a serious punky face and tell me that this is anything more than just a farewell live album, I sense a serious communication problem coming. Let me get this straight: I don't quite understand the point of punk bands - even wussy punk bands like the Jam - releasing live albums. Okay, I sort of get the point of the Ramones' It's Alive - these guys stay true to the cosmic mission of the live album and rev themselves up to the max point of absurdity, so that you come back to the studio albums and surprisingly find them 'tame' in comparison. But in general, the one major advantage that "the new breed" had over the "old guard" was that they claimed, or at least were claimed to claim, that there were no walls whatsoever in between their overboiling, pissed-off angry young selves and the music tracks laid down in the studio. It's all expression, spontaneity, and energy as emphasized by the massively distorted guitars, the relentless power chords, and the wildly barked out vocals. So... what difference is there, then, between a Jam studio album and a Jam live album? To this reviewer's ears (and I do acknowledge the existence of those who'd like to see them clipped) - none whatsoever. The Jam went into the studio, recorded some music. Then they went home, washed their heads, put on their suits and ties, went on stage, played some more music. I don't see them shapeshifting their souls differently for this second activity, if you know what I mean. So perhaps they get a little louder and some of the songs, especially from latter day albums, get a wee bit thinner without the studio capacities. But the basic rule number one for live rock albums - "kick more ass than you do in the studio" - just does not seem to apply. To make matters worse, Dig The New Breed isn't even wholesome. It's a live retrospective of the band's career, going back as early as September 1977 and stretching forward as late as April 1982. The crowd noises honestly fade in and out, giving you no phoney illusions of a complete performance, but I really might prefer me some illusions this time. At least this isn't really a Greatest Hits Live, because well-known standards like 'Going Underground' and 'That's Entertainment' are cleverly interspersed with underrated album numbers and even a couple tunes unavailable elsewhere, like their 'big band' arrangement of Eddie Floyd's 'Big Bird'. But an overview is still an overview, and with each and every new re-emergence of the crowd noises I more and more get the feeling that I'm being treated to a historical documentary rather than a cohesive piece of punk-pop art. Arguably the only difference in the arrangement department is that for the latter day shows in 1981 and 1982 (which comprise the bulk of the record) the band brings in a brass section, reflecting Weller's increasing interest in jazz, funk, and everything that goes with it. So you're gonna hear 'em trumpets blowing not just on 'Ghosts' where they actually belong, but on 'That's Entertainment' as well as on several other tracks. I welcome the change - after all, these guys aren't exactly Cream in the musical department to keep me on my toes for fouirteen songs in a row with just the regular guitar-bass-drums pattern. And they aren't bad, not at all. They're locked on pretty tight. But if there was one thing I never gave a doubt about, it's the Jam's ability to sound tight, be it on stage or in the studio. Let us, however, take just one example (I'm certainly not going to go into detail over all of the songs - check my previous reviews for that): the way the beginning of 'Private Hell' sounds in the studio and here on stage. Foxton's opening bass lines produce exactly the same effect, and he's holding down that grim pattern perfectly. But then, the one thing that really made the song seem so outstanding for me in the overall average context of Setting Sons was Weller's effective coming in with those power blasts - so simple, so desperate, and so masterfully distorted that everything manages to sound like a wall of toneless white noise and a steady rollin' riff at the same time. Live, it just doesn't come off that way. Either it's the acoustics that swallows up a large chunk of the sound, or it's Weller's inability to be super precise on the six-string and sing at the same time, or maybe he's trying to rev up the aggression level by missing some notes, but it ends up sounding like either a wall of toneless white noise or a steady rollin' riff - one at a time, never together. That's my aural take on it, anyway. Finally, you got your average quibbling over the selections. 'Dreams Of Children' used to be a great psychedelic single, but it is hardly fit for a live performance, let alone singling it out from a live performance. Why 'It's Too Bad'? Why 'Standards'? What's so fantastiwastic about these songs? And you all know how I feel about 'Ghosts', so... Ah well, the good news is that if you want to hear a different selection you can have yourself Live Jam, released a decade later and featuring no overlapping material whatsoever. In the Jam's defense, I have to admit, though, that 'Set The House Ablaze' is a mighty fine performance. It doesn't blow away the studio version (nothing on here does), but I could easily imagine that dino of a song butchered onstage, by making it less anthemic (or more anthemic, for that matter) than it should be, and nothing of the sort happens. It's so powerful and the false endings so masterfully lead into even more energized waves of 'la-la-la-la's that I'm a-guessin' the song must have been right at the culmination point of each show. In more of the Jam's defense, this is just a mighty fine ass-kickin' live album from a mighty fine ass-kickin' live band and they're putting on a hell of a good show and they all really care about it and the crowd goes deservedly nuts and if you're a Jam fan buy the private hell out of it or spend the rest of your life deprived, demoralised, and decrepit. Keep in mind that everything I just said loosely translates as "I'm not ever going to listen to this record again, but I sure got my kicks out of it while it was playing, and why not?"
READER COMMENTS SECTION