Vinyl Frontier: Retro Reviews - The Jam All Mod Cons
The Jam - All Mod Cons
By Andrew David James
In 1978 the prolific three piece from Woking had cemented themselves as part of the vibrant and exciting New Wave scene in British music. With elements close to Punk, a movement which was already going out of fashion, they maintained enough of a traditional rock ‘n’ roll sound to stand alone from their peers. Their first two albums had been fast paced and energetic affairs but lacked a certain depth; a patience and melodic warmth to give Paul Weller’s songs a multi dimensional quality. On ‘All Mod Cons’ the band arrived.
The trademark Jam sound which we associate with them today; raw, soulful vocals from Paul Weller plus his angular and bittersweet lead guitar, the chugging bass of Bruce Foxton and the tinderbox drumming from Rick Buckler - it all started here. And the rest is the stuff of legend.
Firstly this album is jam packed with oddities. (Did you see what I did there? Okay no more) It consistently possesses tracks which are unpredictable. But somehow they all work well, knitting the album together wonderfully as Weller thumbs through his scrapbook of poems, skits and short stories to give us a portrait of late 1970’s Britain, a menacing place of social upheaval and urban thuggery. The bright and shiny title track throws up the curtain and then rather slings it back down again such is its brief existence on the record. But, nevertheless, the sweet harmonies and arched, rocky new sound is introduced to mouth watering effect.
After this amuse bouche comes the natty and succulent starter. ‘To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have A Nice Time?)’ is a weird old record because it’s essentially the counter pointed narrative of a wannabe star and then the fallen star as his career goes backwards. Ironically this fate would befall the others in the band but not Mr Weller as he’s been having a bloody nice time for thirty years and the Modfather is definitely a someone! The guitar solo in the middle eight sparkles like sunbeams reflecting off snow.
The effortlessly cool blend of soul and that classic Jam sound punctuate Weller’s tale of the grey suited middle class on ‘Mr Clean’. Carrying on the Ray Davies tradition of social commentary and giving his own unique perspective, another sumptuously clipped guitar solo is in store. And Weller openly and honestly doffs his cap to ‘The Kinks’ as the band give a whole hearted and sincere performance for their cover of ‘David Watts’. They don’t play with the song at all and simply make it a slightly meatier and more frenetic affair, dragging it into the New Wave era. It’s an oddity however, but The Jam were so adept at covers that it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
On to a classic track in their arsenal. More strawberry juice than jam, ‘English Rose’ has Weller in tender and earnest mood. Like a lute player from Elizabethan times, he shows his delicate side and the sound effects of the port and the rushing wind only make it better. The album evokes the city with which Weller would become synonymous; London. Indeed, it is integral to this album. You can feel it, breathe it and hear it throughout.
Weller was developing and fast. He shows his explosive talents once more on ‘In the Crowd’. This ode to mod rule and safety in numbers works both musically and lyrically. Ironic that Weller was a Mod; a schizophrenic philosophy where the nucleus was to not look like everybody else but ultimately become part of an aesthetic that was uniform and manifested in gang culture. But thankfully this Mod was always strident enough not to be in the crowd.
He cheekily works in his best song from first album ‘In the City’. The chorus of ‘Away From the Numbers’ finds its way comfortably into the refrain. Stunning stuff and it’s becoming harder to believe that The Jam are simply a three piece, such is the depth and complexity of their sound.
The short sharp ‘Billy Hunt’ tells of a working class rebel ultimately shackled by the system. ‘It’s Too Bad’ is his heartbreak song, audaciously and unashamedly lifting aspects of ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles. Yet, as with many of his cheats, it works rather well. ‘The Fly’ demonstrates perfectly Weller and the band’s new found maturity on record. Well crafted and heartfelt with a soaring chorus, they’ve come on leaps and bounds.
‘The Place I Love’ is a pacy affair and well pitched for the final tracks. Weller mostly knew that an album should end on a high note. So he doesn’t let us down here. If Weller was swaggering the length of breadth of the capital wearing out the threads of his two tone suit for the rest of the album then by track eleven he’s taken residence at the top of Nelson’s Column having imperiously donned his Parka to salute the musical Gods. But an impressionist he ’ain’t!
The thrilling ‘A-Bomb In Wardour Street’ combines the threat of the atom bomb with the illustrious surroundings of Soho; he counterpoints the everyday chic with the menace of apocalypse. ‘A’ might as well stand for awesome or audacious as the chunky rhythm chords create an ominous atmosphere of expectancy which The Jam more than fulfil, finally ascending into the accelerated riff that reminds one of another Kinks song ‘Last of the Steam Powered Trains’. But who cares? ‘A+’ to Weller.
There’s nothing worse than the penultimate track being great and the final being an anti climax. But Weller isn’t in that type of form. He’s arguably at a career best. ‘Down in the Tube Station’ builds from the underground sound effects into another ominous rhythm section populated by the reliable Foxton on bass and Weller’s simplistically wonderful contribution on his rambling guitar. His voice belies that of a twenty one year old, haunting and wholesome as the song speeds up beautifully as Weller spits forth into the microphone with eye of the needle dexterity and precision.
There are few better lyrics in rock music than ‘he smelled of pubs, and Wormwood Scrubs and too many right wing meetings’. ‘All Mod Cons’ propelled The Jam from being a New Wave band with potential to garnering an army of fans. They would swiftly move into selling bucket loads of records with Weller able to maintain the tricky balance between artistic integrity and catchy pop songs (Going Underground, Start, Beat Surrender).
His vision changed quickly so that each album from here would be very different but the Number Ones increased and they quit at the top so that fortunately the public never had to witness any fall from grace. What a band. And it all really stemmed from here. It is rather damning about the record industry that a band probably wouldn’t be given the chance these days to finally start striking the right chords on their third album. But such was Weller’s prolific nature combined with the steady work ethic of the band in general that they probably just about scraped it. They weren’t jammy, they were just great. Okay, coat time.