All six studio albums by Weller’s post-Jam outfit get reissued in boxset form – and what a package it is
ard to imagine now, but 30 years ago, most people in Britain didn’t know what a cappuccino was. When the first Style Council singles came out, with sleevenotes by The Cappuccino Kid, most of us adolescent mini-mods – eager as ever for lifestyle tips from the mighty Weller – had to go look up what it meant in a dictionary. Or ask someone. Or maybe Smash Hits explained it, I dunno. All I know is we found out from somewhere like that, because there was no Google then, either.
True story, as the youngsters say.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that 30 years is a long time… yet that’s how long it’s been since Paul Weller, ex-The Jam, teamed up with Mick Talbot, ex-Merton Parkas, to form The Style Council. As even the quickest dip into the six studio albums collected here demonstrates, in doing so he kickstarted what was arguably the most creative period of his long career.
Yes, that’s a controversial statement. But much as we might love Setting Sons or Stanley Road, Man On A Wire or Girl On The Phone, even the most ardent fan would find it hard to disagree that The Jam sounded, by and large, like The Jam, and that Weller solo sounds like Weller solo. Whereas The Style Council… they sounded like hard-edged Brit-funk (Money Go Round). They sounded like acoustic balladeers (My Ever Changing Moods), they sounded like hot jazz hep-cat daddios (Dropping Bombs On The White House). Their records took in rap (A Gospel), bossa nova (Me Ship Came In!), Celtic folk strings (Here’s One That Got Away) and Tracey Thorn (The Paris Match).
Lyrically, the Style Council era saw Weller at perhaps his most overtly political, with songs like Internationalist and the inspirational, horn-laden protest-pop anthem Walls Come Tumbling Down leaving the listener in no doubt which side of the fence he was on (the fact he was concurrently one of the main organisers behind Red Wedge providing another subtle cue). As with The Jam and his solo material, though, there was also room for more personal concerns, as well as pithy observation aplenty… see for instance Come To Milton Keynes from third album Our Favourite Shop, an epitaph for the failed utopia of Britain’s ‘new towns’ with its unforgettable couplet, “We used to chase dreams, now we chase the dragon/Mine is the semi with the Union Jack on”.
What this boxset also demonstrates is that as the years went on, The Style Council did slip a little too readily into one groove, too much of later albums The Cost Of Loving and Confessions Of A Pop Group veering towards the polished, easy-listening middle ground occupied by Working Week, Sade or (dare I say it?) Simply Red. Which presumably is precisely why Weller then threw it all up in the air and, in 1989, recorded the final album in the set, Modernism: A New Decade, which drew instead on the then-emerging sounds of Chicago house and New York garage for inspiration, and which proved so much of a curveball that Polydor wouldn’t release it till 1998.
Thirty years is a long time… sometimes it’s good to look back and re-evaluate. And when we do, well, there are probably a few listening, haircut/wardrobe or ‘significant other’ choices we regret. But if the Modfather’s looking back on The Style Council right now, he has very few reasons to blush.
“Cette experience est rare,” as the Cappuccino Kid once said.
Verdict: Reappraising an often-overlooked period of Weller’s career proves deeply rewarding