All six studio albums by Weller, Foxton and Buckler reissued in a lavish vinyl boxset, complete with two bonus discs
e may be the Modfather today, elevated to iconic status by generations of musicians that have come along after him, but in the heady early days of punk in 1977, Paul Weller was just another sneering teenage brat grabbing his 15 minutes in the limelight. 15 minutes, that have somehow become nearly four decades. And that journey towards national treasure status began with a blistering 32 minutes of music that fused punk’s energy with a mod’s taste for raw-edged R&B and uptempo soul.
That first album, In The City, is naturally enough the first disc in this eight-disc vinyl boxset that draws together the entire studio output of The Jam during their only too short career, and what’s truly amazing on hearing it again (after quite a few years, it has to be said) is just how fresh and energetic it still sounds. “Any place that you feel is right,” sings Weller on opener Art School, “wear any clothes just as long as they’re bright/Do what you want cos this is the new art school.” If you’re wondering what that noise was, he seemed to be informing the listener, The Jam have arrived and that was the sound of the rulebook being ripped up.
Crucially, though, it wasn’t, much, really. Along with the Pistols, The Clash and The Damned, The Jam may have helped give music a massive kick up the backside just when it needed it most, but unlike those bands they never made any bones about simultaneously being part of a much older tradition… witness their covering the Batman theme just as their mod heroes The Who had done over a decade before. See also Non-Stop Dancing, essentially a northern soul stomper given spikey hair, a Woking accent and a massive dose of punk adrenaline.
“The Jam definitely did evolve over time”
It was perhaps this dichotomy – this ability to sound at once both timeless and 100 per cent of their time – that made The Jam such an enduring proposition. That, and their refusal to stay stuck in one groove, because as the remaining five albums included here show, The Jam definitely did evolve over time. Where In The City and rush-released follow-up This Is The Modern World were all angst, attitude and amphetamines, on All Mod Cons and Setting Sons the songs become more contemplative and considered.
Weller the storyteller does actually begin to emerge on This Is Modern World, with the heartbreaking yet ultimately optimistic London Girl (the tale of a teenage runaway), but it’s on songs like Down In The Tube Station At Midnight (from All Mod Cons), Private Hell and Smithers-Jones (both from Setting Sons) that his ability to imagine a character and write from their point of view really starts to take shape, as he lets us see the world through the eyes of a late-night mugging victim, a frustrated housewife and an overworked, undervalued suburban businessman respectively. It’s on these albums that the influence of another of Weller’s songwriting heroes, Ray Davies, is most apparent.
And then on Sound Affects, things really start to change. Weller has been quoted as saying he saw this fifth album as “a cross between Off The Wall and Revolver,” and while that may be pushing it a bit, it’s certainly true to say that Sound Affects (the title a verbal pun on the BBC Sound Effects albums, just as the cover is a visual one) saw The Jam experimenting with new rhythmic and melodic ideas, from the stuttering punk-funkisms of Pretty Green and Music For The Last Couple, to the psychedelically-tinged Dream Time, to the blatant Beatles lift that was Start. With the latter going to No 1 on the singles chart, ripping off the Taxman had seldom been so profitable!
Some of those musical ideas were taken further on final album The Gift: see for instance Precious and Circus, two slabs of fat-bottomed Brit-funk, or A Town Called Malice – basically a northern soul stomper full stop, without the spikey hair but with a hefty dose of quintessentially English kitchen sink realism. “To either cut down on beer or the kid’s new gear/It’s a big decision in a town called Malice,” sings Weller, revealing more about the condition of the working class in England in one couplet than today’s chart/festival crop of lovable, smiling ex-public schoolboys could manage if they recorded three-disc concept albums from now till Armageddon.
“Also included are two discs of singles and b-sides”
The Gift was sadly to be The Jam’s swan song, Weller departing to more fully explore his newfound love of funk and jazz with his next venture The Style Council. It’s not the end of our musical journey with them, though, as also included in this set are two discs of singles and b-sides. About which we will simply say that it’s testament to how great a band The Jam were, that a song as poignant and powerful as The Butterfly Collector could ever have been considered mere b-side fodder!
If, like this reviewer, you grew up with these albums, you’ll want to buy this because it gives you the works all over again, on lovely virgin heavyweight vinyl, plus a 44-page hardback book, a bunch of facsimile memorabilia and a voucher to download it all in MP3 format, too. But if you’re younger, and thought it all began with Stanley Road… then here you have the entire catalogue (bar live album Dig The New Breed) of one of Britain’s greatest ever bands to explore. And we’d heartily recommend you do so.
Verdict: The definitive collection of one of the definitive British bands of the past 40 years