Setting Sons by The Jam (Deluxe/Super Deluxe Editions)

31 December, 2014 in Music Reviews

The Jam

The Jam: meet them on a wasteland

Album number four from Weller & Co gets the deluxe reissue treatment, with a choice of two- and three-disc editions

The Jam Setting Sons Deluxet’s not that long since we reviewed the near-complete works of The Jam, so you’ll already know that Messrs Weller, Buckler and Foxton rank extremely highly in the estimation of Team Songwriting. But you’ll have to forgive us for waxing enthusiastic once more as we revisit their fourth long player, which now comes in two-disc, 36-track Deluxe Edition and three-disc Super Deluxe Edition formats.

The former comprises the original album, plus the singles and b-sides that trailed and followed it – don’t forget, When You’re Young, Strange Town and Going Underground never appeared on any of the band’s original studio albums – and a full live show recorded at London’s Rainbow Theatre in December 1979, a month after the album was released. The Super Deluxe Edition, meanwhile, contains the album and singles, a whopping 24 extra tracks made up of demos, alternate takes and a 1979 John Peel session, a different live show – this one recorded at the Brighton Centre around the same time – plus a DVD of videos and BBC TV appearances.

Tackling them in that order, then… the original album has always been a personal fave of this reviewer and revisiting it now only serves to confirm that. Most striking, in retrospect, is the maturity of Weller’s songwriting – how a 21-year-old ever managed to think himself inside the head of a lonely, middle-aged housewife as effectively as Weller does on Private Hell is probably unknowable to most of us! But Paul shouldn’t take all the the credit: Bruce Foxton pulls off a similar trick with Smithers-Jones, rendering an archetypal suburban commuter not as the enemy or a target for scorn, but simply as another victim of the machine.

“There’s songwriting here to rival just about anything”

And then there’s the awesome Little Boy Soldiers, a seering anti-war song in several movements and one of the few tracks to survive from the album’s abandoned ‘concept’ about civil war; the bittersweet WastelandBurning Sky, in which youthful ideals are abandoned in pursuit of wordly ambition; or Saturday’s Kids, which contains one of the Modfather’s most concise and devastating pen portaits: “Saturday’s girls work in Tescos and Woolworths, wear cheap perfume cos it’s all they can afford, go to discos and drink Babycham, talk to Jan in bingo accents”. There’s songwriting here to rival, well, just about anything.

As for the extras… well, it’s nice to have the singles and album in one place on the Deluxe Edition, and the Rainbow show, recorded for BBC In Concert, serves as a demonstration of just how a tight a live band The Jam were. But for diehard fans, the Super Deluxe Edition is the one to set saliva glands tingling. The Brighton Centre live recording has never previously been released, for starters, while the demos are nothing short of a revelation. Two different takes of Burning Sky, for instance, chart its evolution from acoustic ballad to the polished slice of post-punk rock it became, while most excitingly of all, there are also a number of tracks – Simon, Best Of Both Worlds, Along The Grove – that never made it beyond the demo stage at all!

So often, ‘deluxe editions’ merely milk a few more pounds out of sub-standard material. That isn’t the case here at all, with the Super Deluxe Edition in particular shedding new light on a classic long-player.

Verdict: A great mid-period Jam album revisited, with the Super Deluxe Edition particularly recommended for die-hard fans

Russell Deeks