George Starostin's Reviews



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Jay Banerjee <Sanjay.K.E.Banerjee@Dartmouth.EDU> (06.03.2004)

OK, first of all, even though you and I have very different musical tastes, I would like to say that I very much respect your site. You listen to albums the whole way through to write fair reviews even for bands you hate, and that merits approbation. I mean, you couldn't PAY me to listen to anything by Genesis. In fact, I'd probably pay you not to listen to them. So even though you rate The Jam a low three and I'd give them, at the very least, a solid four--if not a five--I think we can approach this at a rational level, right?

Now, in regards to The Jam's originality (or lack thereof). Yes, they wore their influences quite plainly on their sleeve: Motown, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who and The Sex Pistols. But their music was a clever synthesis of British Invasion tunefulness, soulful stylings, and punk rock energy. And that's what rock and roll evolution is all about--synthesis of prior styles. Who, aside from like Jackie Brenston, can claim to have done anything truly and one hundred percent original in rock and roll? Nobody. The Jam's mod revivalist sound was original enough to inspire legions of imitators, and it's a testament to the depth of that sound that many of those imitators were actually quite good, such as The Chords and The Jolt.

Second of all I totally don't understand your "adequacy" criterion. I've looked on your site for some criteria explications and couldn't find any. I don't even understand what you mean by "adequate". For The Jam, you say "No big problems here, except that every time Weller says 'fuck' or 'cock', you can still feel his inner mother spanking his wussy ass." For The Beatles you say, "Okay, I'll refrain from cutting it down to 1/5 because of 'Revolution#9'! I'll be good!" Do you just mean "adequate" as in anything they attempted to do artisitically, they were capable of doing? Well, I don't know. If that's what it means then I agree with that rating, actually. Not for Weller's "inner mother" but for most of "The Gift". Actually I can only think of two such swearwords: "my leg measurements and the size of my cock" from "Girl on the Phone" and "I don't give two fucks about your review!" from the album version of "This Is the Modern World". Neither time does it seem particularly forced. I'm probably missing a bunch, though.

I am genuinely surprised, however, that you don't like The Jam but you like The Police. Most critics either disdain anything that's come out since 1976 or effuse praise for The Jam whilst despising the bleach blond chart-topping glamor boys in The Police. And you call The Police original! Huh? What they do that was so original? I mean you don't think The Jam are original, but you call a group that mixed watered-down punk rock and faux-Jamaican syncopation--not to mention faux-Jamaican enunciation--original? First of all The Police were by no means the first to incorporate elements of punk and reggae together. That would, of course, be The Clash. But anyway this letter isn't about The Clash or The's about The Jam. So, back on topic.

Anyway, blah blah blah highly influential...blah blah blah echoes heard in every British guitar group since...blah blah blah Smiths, Blur, et cetera. And I don't think they recorded a truly unlistenable song. At least until The Gift. Yeah The Modern World was fairly mediocre but at least it had energy and hooks. Don't need much more than that if you ask me.

One major discography gap I see here--but not acknowledged in your "discography gap" section--is Compact Snap!, the singles collection. You say you don't do compilations except for "important singles collections", a tag you must ascribe to Compact Snap! (AMG 5 stars, by the way). First of all, even die-hard Jam fans acknowledge that their albums can occasionally contain some measure of filler. The Jam were first and foremost a singles band. Many of their best singles never ended up on their albums. I'd say a majority of Jam fans, including myself, would agree that their very best track is "Going Underground" (their first British #1). Without Compact Snap!, you don't have it. And you don't have "All Around the World", a mod anthem on par with "My Generation". You don't have "Strange Town". You don't have "Beat Surrender". You don't have the original power trio, string-free version of "Smithers-Jones". You don't have "Dreams of Children", one of the best B-sides ever. By anybody. You don't have the most killer version of "That's Entertainment" ever committed to record. You don't have a lot of songs that I think you would like very much. "Dreams of Children" recalls "Revolver"-era Beatles. "Going Underground" is one of the finest pop songs ever done by anybody. Compact Snap! is worthy of a place in the canon of all-time great rock and roll singles collections, alongside Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy and Singles Going Steady. Please buy it. Please listen to it. Please review it. Sell all your other Jam LP's if you need to scrape together some money for it. For if you had to own only one Jam record, it must be Compact Snap.

That's about it. But for more Jam ranting see my response to your Setting Sons review.


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Mike O'Connell <> (23.09.2006)

A quick factual correction to your review of The Jam's "All Mod Cons."

You wrote: "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."

"Mod cons" refers not to "modern conditions" but to "modern conveniences" in a home. A classified ad for a luxury apartment would abbreviate its message by saying "all mod cons." It is a realtor's colloquialism in the UK. plural noun modern conveniences, i.e. the amenities and appliances characteristic of a well-equipped modern house.


Sakari Lehtonen <> (04.03.2002)

Dear George...

To my delight I noticed your latest reviews on one of my favourite post-60's bands, The Jam. While your comments certainly were up to the point -Weller is very much specialized in "quotation" art indeed- I noticed a small fault in your review of Setting Sons:

A version of the "Batman Theme" by The Who did not appear on a B-side, but was part of an EP called "Ready, Steady, Who!". Just wanted to correct this as you're speaking of knowing one's influences... ;-)

However, your site is great (I check for new updates constantly) - therefore keep up the good work!

[Special author note: thanks a lot! It's hard to keep track of those rarities, you know.]

Rich Bunnell <> (09.04.2002)

No, you are incorrect. "Thick As Thieves" is, in fact, the best song on the album.

Jay Banerjee <Sanjay.K.E.Banerjee@Dartmouth.EDU> (06.03.2004)

This is my favorite Jam LP, save Compact Snap! of course. This is when they were at the absolute peak of their career and could do no wrong. Even better is the recent CD re-release which has scads of bonus tracks from single sides that preceded and followed the album. But first the LP itself.

OK, your criticism of a lack of hooks is justified to an extent. To be honest I didn't even notice it until I read your review, and then when I played it to see if you were right it really bothered me, actually! But I've listened to it some more and they are there. Check the subtle percolating guitar line in "Thick as Thieves". Or the hypnotic bassline in "Eton Rifles". Or the "do-do-do-do-do-do-do" chorus of "Burning Sky". All hooks. I admit that it's not as hooky as other Jam works, but there's a difference between lacking hooks and lacking melody. I mean you make it sound as if this is fucking Pantera or something. This is a very melodic work. Don't get me wrong, I love hooks. My favorite band from this era isn't actually The Jam but rather The Buzzcocks, who were the absolute kings of hooks, in case ya didn't know. But while you can get by on hooks alone, you don't need an overabundance of them to still make a fine, melodic record.

When I play Setting Sons, I think of The Beatles. I think that if The Beatles came around in the punk era, they'd make records that sound like this. You might wince at that assessment, but it's still how I feel.

This contains some of The Jam's most poignant moments ever put on record. The overdubbed whispers on the acoustic section of "Little Boy Soldiers" send shivers down my spine. Or how about Weller moaning, "You came into my life, then like a perfect stranger, you walked away, walked away, walked away, walked away..." on "Thick As Thieves". Or the "Can we hold hands?" on "Wasteland". One thing I like about this record from a lyrical point of view is that many of the songs are about male friendships, a topic often thought of as too wussy in the machismo-fueled world of rock and roll.

Speaking of "Wasteland", I must object to your implication that this is a "Baba O'Riley" knock-off. "Wasteland" is a concise, Beatles-esque pop song about two adults who meet each other at the place they used to play together, and find themselves grown up and apart. "Baba O'Riley" is agonizing, syntho-cheese, over-indulgent AOR dross about the death of the sixties and lost generation youth. Weller said at the time that everything by the post-mod Who is awful. (And he was right.) No way would he take inspiration from anything off of (ugh) Who's Next. Neither musically nor lyrically does "The Wasteland" have anything whatsoever in common with "Baba O'Riley" except the use of the word.

In spite of how great Setting Sons is, I don't think it's a perfect record, however. "Private Hell", while a good song, veers a bit too closely into hard rock territory. "Heat Wave" is fun but decidedly out of place. "Smithers-Jones" is great but the better version wound up on the B-side of "When You're Young": guitars, bass, and drums. And yeah, maybe the LP could use more hooks. But I'll give it at least a 8.5/10. (I rate on a 0-10 scale in .5 increments. I'm very tough, however. The only record I ever gave a perfect 10 out of 10 to is The Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady.)

Notice I said "at least". That was a crucial qualification on my part, for now I need to discuss the absolutely killer bonus tracks on the new CD re-release of Setting Sons. Nine (!!!) bonus tracks from The Jam's peak period, including "Strange Town", "Going Underground", and "Dreams of Children"...all of which I and many other Jam fans would rank in the band's all-time ten best, "Going Undergrond" being the group's finest moment. You also get "When You're Young", a fine single, the excellent rock version of "Smithers-Jones", the single version of "Start!", a cover of the Who from when they were a great band ("So Sad About Us"), and one of my favorite Weller songs ever, the gorgeous mod-pop B-side "See-Saw". And a song I've never heard called "Hey Mister". No, I don't own this CD re-release. I own The Jam's box set which includes just about everything they ever did but is missing the odd super-obscure track, so I've never heard this "Hey Mister". But I imagine it can't be so bad as to put a damper on all these totally killer bonus cuts, so I'm going to push the rating of Setting Sons up to a vigorous 9/10.

This, aside from Compact Snap!, is the true Jam essential. It features some of the best album tracks the band ever did. Yeah, "All Mod Cons" is pretty good, but its power really lies in "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" and "'A' Bomb in Wardour Street", which were both single cuts. Setting Sons features one of The Jam's finest ("Eton Rifles") cushioned by classics like "Thick as Thieves" and "Wasteland" that never saw release on 45. As a final thought, I've observed a strange phenomenon. Critics outside the US rate All Mod Cons and Sound Affects as The Jam's best ever (often lambasting Setting Sons), but American critics--including me--all seem to choose this one instead. I don't know...something about All Mod Cons and Sound Affects is just too British for me, both musically and lyrically. Ah well. But this begs the question: If this is The Jam's finest, what's their 2nd best LP?

That would be In the City, of course.


Sergey Zhilkin <> (22.09.2003)

Now, I don't really know if it's a well-known fact, but anyway listen to the riff Kinks start playing on the 25-th second of "Cliches of the world (B movie)" off State of confusion album (1982) and then immediately switch to this record's "Set the house ablaze". I admit it, Dave (or Ray) plays it slower (this shows who is the better guitarist - haha!) and not completely note for note, which could be explained by the lack of guitar tabs sites so Dave had spent five hours trying to pick up the riff! Back to the Sound affects now. I'm always ready to admit that "Set the house ablaze" is a good song but I'll never forget "That's entertainment" with a bit kitschy lyrics that don't even rhyme, nevertheless, Paul manages to pull 'em out with very angry voice. Also I dig the verses of "I'm different now" (not the awful "Na-na-na-na" chorus, though) and crazy lyrics of "Pretty green", which is about dollars Paul going to put into fruit machine. Short "Boy about town" boasts wonderful melody and great brass solo which predicts the production on "Gift". "Monday" and Beatles rip-off "Start!" are pretty good, too. To tell the truth, I don't really care for other tracks but none of them suck, I bet ya.

Well, looks like this is the most consistent album Jam could come up with so I'm ready to give it 12 points. Strange, but even if I can't find any 13-point album in Jam's collection, I still insist that the band should get 3 stars.


Rich Bunnell <> (09.04.2002)

No, you are incorrect. "Ghosts" is, in fact, the best song on the album.

Murray Passarieu <> (10.04.2002)

Totally underrated album, but there's no predicting people's taste. 'Ghosts' is my favorite song on here, and might be my favorite Jam song period, but the rest is definitely listenable and most of it is great.  Buy it despite what critics say, this is essential Jam. <> (04.03.2003)

'Town called Malice' is not a rip-off of "Heatwave" by Martha & the Vandellas - but the bass-line was "lend" off "Ready for love" by the same combo.

Sakari Lehtonen <> (03.05.2003)

Nah, the beat is certainly nicked from "You Can't Hurry Love" by the Supremes. And also George, how come you've chosen such a poor picture of the band for the front page? Weller isn't even in it... [It's all out of modesty! He's a humble guy, he skedaddled past the photo border! - G.S.].


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