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The Jam and Paul Weller

Reviewed on this page:
In The City - All Mod Cons - Setting Sons - Sound Affects - Extras - Live Jam - Café Bleu - Paul Weller

With fiery protest lyrics, tension-building dynamics, heart-wrenching melodies, and a unique blend of musical influences, the Jam's song catalog is among the most enduring and substantial to have come out of the late 70s British punk and New Wave movement. Frontman Paul Weller was vocally and instrumentally limited, and his work was often derivative, with his musical approach being modelled closely not on just punk and New Wave contemporaries, but on 60s Mod and acid rock acts like the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Who (not to mention his strong interest in jazz and Motown). Arguably, XTC's work in the 80s went far beyond anything the Jam ever did, and despite a long string of hit U.K. singles, the group had little commercial impact in the U.S. - unlike several equally talented contemporaries, including the Clash, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, and especially the Police. But none of these acts managed to deliver so much solid, intelligent, and diverse song material in just the space of the punk and New Wave's crucial first few years. The group's 1982 breakup truly marked the end of an era.

Original a small-time, teenaged rock band, the Jam switched to punk rock and got a record contract shortly after the first key punk singles were released by the Sex Pistols and others in late 1976. Because the lineup was a very basic power trio, the prolific Weller was responsible for almost all of the angst-ridden tunes and snarling, Cockney-accented punk singing. But Bruce Foxton's bouncy, melodic bass playing and well-timed backing vocals were also crucial to their sound, which quickly became distinct. Even though their first couple of records were musically primitive and derivative in the extreme, their blend of Mod and punk rock was unique from the start, and Weller's incisive lyrics, militant and sincere left-wing politics, and solid grasp of melody soon developed into a major force. Despite a slow drift toward jazz and 60s R & B that is already audible on Sound Affects (1980), the group was still popular and vital when Weller suddenly quit and put it to an end.

Weller's later career is frustratingly uneven and (at least for an American) hard to track. He spent the rest of the 80s working with keyboard player Mick Talbot in the Style Council, a tongue-in-cheek, retro jazz-pop outfit that had none of the Jam's famous punk vitality (at least as far as I can tell), and also failed to make much of a mark here in the U.S. At the end of the decade he went back to cutting solo records; I have several of his discs from the 90s and think they're pretty solid, although none of them are as good as the classic Jam LPs. As for Foxton, he recorded an unsuccessful single solo album soon after the group's split, then puttered around for a few years, and was recruited in 1990 to join the newly reformed Stiff Little Fingers (Ireland's leading late 70s punk band). Along with SLF frontman Jake Burns, he's been that group's only constant to this day. I don't have much to say about drummer Rick Buckler; he's solid, but he's no Stewart Copeland, and I don't know anything about his later career.

Unfortunately for collectors, the Jam made a habit of releasing single sides that they left off of their albums. Worse still, none of the numerous Jam compilation discs properly assembled these cuts. You can get all of their A-sides on two releases: Compact Snap! (1983), which runs to 29 tracks; and the stripped-down The Very Best Of The Jam (1997). Together with the B-side/outtake set Extras (1992), either one of these discs should satisfy most collectors. However, if you want absolutely everything you'll have to pick up the extravagant five-CD box set Direction, Reaction, Creation (1997), which also incorporates not just a "new" batch of rarities, but all six of the group's original LPs. I'd actually recommend this one-stop-shopping approach if you're willing to accept my declaration that the band's entire catalog is well worth hearing. But stay away from the 19-track Greatest Hits (1991), which leaves off "Dreams Of Children" (originally a double A-side together with "Going Underground"). And the aptly named Wasteland (1992) is a ripoff dominated by album cuts. Meanwhile, the single CD compilation The Jam Collection (1996) is a random mix, intentionally excluding all of the group's A-sides; I'm not really sure who's going to want to hear it. (JA)

Lineup: Rick Buckler (drums); Bruce Foxton (bass, backing vocals); Paul Weller (vocals, guitar).

In The City (1977)
The group's frenzied, rough-edged debut is a weird and unmistakeable blend of primitive Clash-style British punk and mid-60s Mod rock, in turn showing all of the classic Mod influences: rockabilly (Larry Williams' "Slow Down"), Motown ("I Got By In Time"), James Brown ("Non-Stop Dancing," with a strong twist beat), and even surf rock ("Batman Theme"). Weller steals not just his licks but his simplistic feedback and guitar-abuse effects from Pete Townshend ("Bricks And Mortar"), so half the record sounds exactly like the Who c. 1965 ("Art School"; "Sounds From The Street"). And just like Townshend at the same age, Weller's still pumping out rote material like "I've Changed My Address" and the overdriven "Takin' My Love." With a few exceptions (title track, "Time For Truth"), the band's later political rage is relatively muted, and none of them had developed interesting chops just yet. So only Weller's gruff, punkish vocals set it all apart. But the record still manages to be consistently heartfelt and energetic, and Weller does deliver some substantial compositions ("Art School"; "Bricks And Mortar"), two of which are key: his sophisticated, "Circles"-like ballad "Away From The Numbers" (which also recalls contemporary Elvis Costello); and the driving title track, their first (but modest) U.K. hit, and the only single. Produced by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven and Chris Parry. (JA)

This Is The Modern World (1977)
By now they were a major commercial force - "All Around The World" had reached #13 - although the title track here was only a middling hit. (JA)

All Mod Cons (1978)
Barely a year after its first record, the group had reached its peak, with smoother vocals; slightly more complex production, often including basic piano parts by Weller; and better songwriting all around - they still owe a huge debt to the early Who ("It's Too Bad"), but now there's also an unmistakeable Ray Davies influence, with wistful tunes and witty, introspective social protest lyrics. They even put across an exacting recreation of "David Watts," a major hit in Britain. So was "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight," a virtuoso display packed with unexpected transitions and clever vocal, bass, and guitar hooks. Weller can't always get his material to gel - the opening title track is a tantalizing fragment - but his sense of dynamics and melody is consistently striking ("To Be Someone (Didn't We Have A Nice Time?)"), and the rhythm section is taut and energizing ("The Place I Love"). He ends up with a pile of classic tunes that mark this disc as among the very best of its era: "Tube Station"; the jazzy, tension-building character sketch "Mr. Clean," with its seductive guitar hook; the ferocious, militaristic punk numbers "Billy Hunt" and "'A' Bomb In Wardour Street"; the deceptively upbeat epic "In The Crowd," which fades with a backwards guitar solo over an acid rock mantra; and most surprisingly, a tender, solo acoustic ballad with jazz guitar chording ("English Rose"). Only the slightly sappy, overworked AOR love song "Fly" - complete with Frampton-esque harmonies and slide guitar - hints at the wimpiness and bathos that distracted Weller in the 80s. Produced by Coppersmith-Heaven, with some help from Parry. (JA)

Setting Sons (1979)
This sparkling collection of blisteringly loud, immaculately produced, and devastatingly political power pop songs is yet another landmark of the British New Wave. Weller's surefire songwriting and precise Townshend-style power chords carry all the key tracks: his glorious youth gang anthem "Thick As Thieves," his incredibly bleak "Burning Sky," which takes the form of a rambling personal letter, and his memorable rocker "Eton Rifles" (a commercial breakthrough single, pushing them to #3 on the charts). Although the songwriting is a small step down, the lesser tunes are still all strong, ranging from melodious, high-energy ska ("Girl On The Phone"; "Saturday's Kids") to brutally honest, Kinks-style proletarian slice-of-life protest numbers ("Private Hell"; "Little Boy Soldiers"). On top of that, they get across one twisting, early 60s Beatle-style ballad that shows their lighter side ("Wasteland"); their ecstatic cover of "Heat Wave" is fun (albeit not as substantial as "David Watts"); and Foxton's spotlight number "Smithers-Jones" gets an intriguing, up-tempo string quartet arrangement (although the power-trio version on Live Jam is arguably more endurable). With only ten fast-paced selections, the original issue of this whirlwind tour de force will leave you begging for more - it's a good thing the recent reissue has a bunch of bonus tracks, like the contemporary hit singles "Strange Town" and "When You're Young." Produced again by Coppersmith-Heaven; engineered by him and Alan Douglas. (JA)

Sound Affects (1980)
By now Weller's slide into irrelevancy had started to accelerate, but the group was still very near the top of its game. So their next album - which he wrote entirely by himself - was still remarkably good, if surprisingly sleepy: the key track "That's Entertainment" is a deceptively lulling blend of airy harmonies, briskly strummed acoustic guitar, and angry black humor, and the equally tuneful and gentle ballad "Monday" has wimpy counterpoint harmonies and trebly Steve Nieve-like piano and synth parts. Some of the material is also both lyrically and musically rote ("Dream Time"; the burbling, XTC-style ska instrumental "Music For The Last Couple," which sounds like a studio jam). But they still manage a couple of intricate, high-energy rockers in their classic style ("But I'm Different Now"), and their mid-tempo efforts are often lifted by interesting production and engaging melodies (the loping, "Taxman"-like ska number "Start!"; the creepy, throbbing "Scrape Away," whose hypnotic bass, buzzsaw guitar arpeggiations, and off-kilter dub mix also strongly recall XTC). Not surprisingly, several tunes are enduring masterpieces: the lush and strongly folk rock-influenced "Man In The Corner Shop," with one of Weller's best sing-along choruses ever; the irresistably joyful "Boy About Town," unexpectedly punctuated by a horn section; the exciting anti-authoritarian rocker "Set The House Ablaze," with its inventive, whistled refrain; and the devastating protest song "Pretty Green," one of their most powerful and dynamic efforts. Earlier this year they topped the charts for the first time with the non-album side "Going Underground"; "Start!" then became their second #1 single, and "That's Entertainment" also sold strongly. Co-produced by Coppersmith-Heaven, with Douglas again engineering. (JA)

The Gift (1982)
Their Motown revival tune "Town Called Malice" is the key track here; it was their third #1 hit in Britain. "Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?" also was a hit, and the same year they released two big-deal non-album singles ("The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)"; "Beat Surrender," their last chart-topper). Everything I've heard from this period indicates that the LP marks a major shift from their classic sound, with tons of horns and much more overt touches of R & B and jazz - not very different from Elvis Costello's slightly later Punch The Clock. (JA)

Compact Snap! (rec. 1977 - 1982, rel. 1983)
The first of the group's many compilations, presenting all 29 of their tunes that appeared on singles in chronological order. There is some overlap with the albums, but it's the most harmless way to get the ten A-sides they originally left off their LPs. (JA)

Extras (rec. 1978 - 1982, rel. 1992)
An overgenerous, sloppily incomplete, and still mostly satisfying 26-track compilation of B-sides, demos, and assorted trivia. It's a poor introduction to the band: many tracks are superfluous (several demos and an alternate take of "Boy About Town"), and others are just plain weak (the experiment "Pop Art Poem," like XTC at its spaciest; "Hey Mister," a piano ballad demo that's reminiscent of "Smithers-Jones"), especially a series of overproduced 1982 numbers with heavy jazz, pop, and R & B influences: "A Solid Bond In Your Heart," "Shopping," "The Great Depression," "Pity Poor Alfie/Fever," and a breezy cover of the Chi-Lites' 1973 hit "Stoned Out Of My Mind," the best being their odd ska/dub-slanted arrangement of Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up." Worse, they left off about a half-dozen B-sides (this version of "Liza Radley" is just a demo). But the slew of quirky and consistently faithful cover versions is fascinating, laying Weller's 60s influences bare: Mod icons like the Small Faces (the explosive "Get Yourself Together") and the mid-60s the Who ("Disguises"; "So Sad About Us"), the Mod's own icon James Brown ("I Got You (I Feel Good)"), and unavoidably the Beatles ("And Your Bird Can Sing"). And the remaining material is welcome, including B-sides like the haunting, schizophrenic "The Butterfly Collector," generic but respectable "Dreams Of Children," psychedelic "Tales From The Riverbank," and rock band arrangement of "Smithers-Jones." Best of all are the two substantial "new" Weller compositions: 1981's slightly roughshod, entertaining "We've Only Started," and the sparkling, jazzy demo "No One In The World." (JA)

Live Jam (rec. 1979 - 1982, rel. 1993)
This is the new, improved, 24-track version of 1982's Dig The New Breed, which was recorded in 1979 and '80. The new material is from '81 and '82, and it shows the group's progression from barely reconstructed punks to 60s mod/R & B revivalists: by the end they've added a horn section, are covering tunes like "Heat Wave" and Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up," and have audibly cut the tempo and volume ("Boy About Town"; "The Butterfly Collector"). But the material is so well-written and ferociously performed that the transition is more interesting than alarming. About half of their hits are here: "The Modern World," the Clash-style "'A' Bomb In Wardour Street," "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight," "Strange Town," "When You're Young," "The Eton Rifles," the apocalyptic "Funeral Pyre," and of course "Town Called Malice." But almost everything on the disc is worthwhile, from energetic sing-alongs like "Billy Hunt," "Away From The Numbers," and "Man In The Corner Shop" to Elvis Costello-ish foot tappers like "Burning Sky." The group's debt to mod is demonstrated not just by their sincere take on "David Watts," but by high-volume, Who-like rhythm guitar work ("Eton Rifles") and biting social protest lyrics ("Smithers-Jones"; "Pretty Green"). As the only CD by this important group that's easily available in the US, I strongly recommend it. (JA)

Café Bleu (Style Council: 1983)
After dragging the Jam as far from rock as the band would go, Weller finally quit and teamed up with keyboard player Mick Talbot. Weller's disdain for his loyal fans is amazing here: side 1 is a puritanically retro set of super-polite, late 50s- and early 60s-style jazz numbers (the peppy bop recreations "Me Ship Came In!" and "Dropping Bombs On The White House"), and side 2 digresses with painfully trendy electronic dance music (the frightful hiphop number "A Gospel," with rapper Dizzy Hite, and the over-overbusy, Prince-style funk-disco dance tune "Strength Of Your Nature"). Worse, Weller stays in the background despite writing most of the tunes, giving away one vocal ("The Paris Match," with bland torch singer Tracey Thorn); leaving others as unfinished instrumentals (the slow, super-romantic, Wes Montgomery-like "Blue Café"); letting Talbot dominate instrumentally ("Council Meetin'"; the gospel-like "Mick's Blessings"); dragging in a ton of bit players; and playing just as much bass (i.e., not much) as rhythm guitar. Nonetheless, Weller does deliver a string of irresistable, if sappy jazz ballads: "The Whole Point Of No Return" (a near-demo with one of his strongest vocals ever), "You're The Best Thing" (a hit single with a bossa nova flavor), and "My Ever Changing Moods" (another hit with just a solo vocal and piano; the group's biggest success, it cracked the U.S. Top 40 - something the Jam never managed to do). And there are also a couple of breezy, swinging pop songs ("Headstart For Happiness"; "Here's The One That Got Away"). Venal and stylistically scattershot, the record still does showcase Weller's enormous talent. Steve White is on drums, but is replaced by Pete Wilson's god-awful drum programming on side 2; D. C. Lee sings some backup; Barbara Snow, Billy Chapman and Hillary Seabrook are on horns. The disc was released as My Ever Changing Moods the next year in the U.S., with a revamped track listing. (JA)

Touch Sensitive (Foxton: 1983)
Foxton's only solo album, a flop he later criticized as overproduced. (JA)

In Our Favourite Shop (Style Council: 1985)
Retitled The Internationalists for export. A couple of big British singles here: "Shout To The Top" and "Walls Come Tumbling Down!" (JA)

The Cost Of Loving (Style Council: 1987)
Includes their last major hit single, "It Didn't Matter." (JA)

Confessions Of A Pop Group (Style Council: 1988)
The single "Life At A Top People's Health Farm" sold relatively poorly. I think their equally modest 1989 hit "Promised Land" also is here. (JA)

In 1991 Weller (billed as "Paul Weller Movement") released the single "Into Tomorrow." (JA)

Paul Weller (Weller: 1992)
Weller's first solo record sets the tone for the rest of the decade, ditching jazzy pretension and hi-tech gimmickry in favor of a guitar-driven blend of modern production gloss, English sensibilities, and old school jazz, R & B, and soul. It's not even vaguely punk, but it is authentic and accessible. There are plenty of enjoyable tunes like the slow-burning R & B song "Bull-Rush," the gently funky, vaguely Stevie Wonder-like "Round & Round," the sophisticated Motown ballad "Above The Clouds" (a single), the cheery Stax-Volt dance tune "Amongst Butterflies," and the ecstatic late 60s Motown-style sing-along "Bitterness Rising." The rest is at least competent, with catchy mid-tempo rock ("Uh Huh Oh Yeh"; "Kosmos") and jazzy, sophisticated pop ("Remember How We Started"). Admittedly, only one of the rock songs has a truly insistent beat ("Into Tomorrow"), and otherwise he only comes close to rocking out on "Clues" (one of the better numbers). And Weller's attempts at musical revival don't always work (the soul number "I Didn't Mean To Hurt You"). It's one of his mellowest records and the high points aren't that high, but it's still very much worth hearing because of its substantial - if somewhat diffuse - songwriting. Co-produced by Weller and Brendan Lynch. Weller played all the guitars and keyboards and most of the bass, joined by Jacko Peake (sax and flute), Steve White (drums), and backing vocalists. Mick Talbot has a co-write on the understated soul song "The Strange Museum" but doesn't appear. (JA)

Wild Wood (Weller: 1993)
"Sunflower," "Wild Wood," and "Hung Up" were the singles, and all of them did pretty well on the British charts. (JA)

Live Wood (Weller: 1994)
A moderately entertaining live record. (JA)

Stanley Road (Weller: 1995)

Heavy Soul (Weller: 1997)
After this, Weller's record company bided time with a greatest hits compilation that included a bonus live CD (Modern Classics, 1998). (JA)

Heliocentric (Weller: 2000)
I've never seen this one. (JA)

Days Of Speed (Weller: 2001)
An acoustic live record mostly focusing on solo and Style Council material, although he does perform a few Jam tunes such as "English Rose," "That's Entertainment," and "Town Called Malice." (JA)

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