Tuesday, May 1, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1133: The Jam

Fun fact about this next album – just prior to writing it the band toured it in North America opening for my favourite rock band of all time – Blue Oyster Cult! What a weird and wonderful double bill that would have been.

According to Wikipedia (which is never wrong) the Jam were not well received by BOC fans. Sorry about that, boys – we got that one wrong.

Disc 1133 is… All Mod Cons
Artist: The Jam

Year of Release: 1978

What’s up with the Cover? It’s late at night, all the other wedding guests have gone home and the game of musical chairs between the groomsmen is down to just two people. The bride was pretty angry about that one guy wearing high tops with his suit, but he knew it would give him an edge come 2 a.m. when the music stopped one final time.

How I Came To Know It: A bunch of my friends have been sharing Jam songs with me for years, but it never seemed to sink in. Then about a month ago I read Paste Magazine’s list of “Top 30 albums of 1978.” I already owned 10 of them but I checked out the other 20. Three of those impressed me enough to seek them out. I have yet to find : Devo’s “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!” but I bought both X-Ray Spex’s “Germfree Adolescents”, and this record.

How It Stacks Up:  I only have one Jam album. Armed with additional advice from my aforementioned friends (who I am now paying closer attention to on this whole “Jam” thing) I may be adding more. For now, one album doesn’t create a stack.

Ratings: 4 stars

Being a small town BC boy raised in the eighties the urban English experience of the seventies is a bit foreign, but the Jam makes it feel familiar and uplifting.

The end of the seventies was a great time in music. There were modern organ and synth elements starting to influence the music, but it was still serving the music, rather than replacing it. The Jam do a masterful job of incorporating New Wave sound into very traditional sixties rock and roll to create something that feels both classic and experimental.

The musical structures reminded me heavily of sixties Kinks songs (in fact “David Watts” is a Kinks’ cover song). Paul Weller knows how to write an energy-infused melody and wisely not put too much production on top of it. The album feels ahead of its time, but also like it is part of some alternate future where the eighties were…better.

Weller’s vocals are solid and he sits down right in the pocket of the beat, or maybe just a little ahead when he’s trying to infuse the song with excitement. At the same time, on “English Rose” he manages to transform from New Wave frontman to traditional folk crooner and doesn’t miss a beat. “English Rose” could easily have sounded saccharine around all these high energy rock songs, but Weller’s heartfelt delivery makes it real and romantic. Sure it is a bit idealized, but hey – it’s a love song.

I was also really taken with Rick Buckler’s drums. These songs are heavy on beat and Buckler is a big part of what gives “All Mod Cons” its infectious energy. His ska-like delivery on “Billy Hunt” puts the slam in the slam dance that’s waiting to happen.

Subject-wise the lyrics didn’t draw me as much as the music, which was an uncommon experience for me. One song that did catch my attention lyrically was “In the Crowd” a song about that trance-like quality you get when you’re surrounded by people. This was an acquired skill for a small town boy like me, but I’ve been urbanized for so long I now enjoy the anonymous flow of people all around. “In the Crowd” serves as a nice reminder that this was once a novel experience.

The album even features a tasteful amount of hand clapping and a pretty solid cowbell on “’A’ Bomb in Wardour Street” which is a glorious mix of punk and old fashioned guitar rock.

As for the album’s famous song, “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” I liked it plenty, but it suffered a little from its inflated reputation. I didn’t love all the staccato eighties arrangements in it, but there’s no denying it is a solid song, made better by just the right amount of “oh-whoa-oh!” chorus.

Best of all, “All Mod Cons” feels like a true record, with songs that compliment one another and are arranged in a thoughtful order. By any standard, this is a classic record and well-deserving of a place on the best albums of 1978. I just wish I’d listened to my friends sooner.

Best tracks: All Mod Cons, To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have a Nice Time), Mr. Clean, English Rose, In the Crowd, Billy Hunt, A Bomb in Wardour Street,

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