No.5 All Mod Cons
The Jam (Polydor Records, 1978)
Now don't groan and say, but the Jam were a mod band, not punk! Because I just wont agree. To me they were always a refreshing mixture of the two, and the power of this tightly-rehearsed trio tips the balance in favour of the New Wave, which, despite Paul Weller's preoccupation with all things Tamla, Small Faces and 60's, was how they were largely perceived during their early heyday, 1977 to 1980. They recorded All Mod Cons twice, because the first sessions produced a performance that must have lacked something. Go away and start again, Chris Parry told them. At the time, he was head honcho in charge of punky acts at Polydor.
This must have annoyed the hell out of Weller, because these are inspired performances. The title track deals with fickle people, hangers-on, the bastards who are there when success is happening but curiously absent when things go tits-up. Was Weller talking about his record company with lines like artistic freedom, do what you want, but just make sure that the money aint gone? It's a moot point. Machine gun snare drumming in-sync with each verse makes for an edge-of-the-seat listening experience.
To Be Someone follows, a straightforward enough aspiration involving the elusive stardom, charmingly from the outsiders working-class point of view. But there seems to be a guilt trip going down here: "I realise I should have stuck to my guns, instead shit out to be one of the bastard sons, and lose myself, I know it was wrong, but it's cost me a lot." The guitars are huge, the sound angry and inflamed.
Some clever interplay between a muted guitar and the bass heralds Mr. Clean, another of Weller's Beatles influenced events-in-a-day songs (think of For No-One, Paperback Writer, or Macca's 1971 hit, Another Day). The narrative explodes with anger on the tail-end of the third verse, Weller berating what he sees as the dullard commuter and his bland domestic stabilities (very much a callow youth's viewpoint), the vicious young thug spitting abuse. This leads on to a middle-eight which possesses a rather beautiful melody, before the song winds up with another dose of envy and hasty judgement: "you miss Page 3, but The Times is right for you, and mum and dad are very proud of you."
The Jam's hit cover-version of the Kinks' David Watts follows, a note-by-note copy of the original, just better performed and produced, thats all. Interestingly however, it could have been another of Paul Weller's own songs, so much has he been influenced by those 60's bands.
Lapping waves and foghorns supplement English Rose, the calm interlude in this fiery collection. A simple, plaintive love song with a ravishing melody, Weller's touching lyrics detail his many travels, always to return to his love. Accompanied by stark acoustic guitar harmonics, its a moving piece of work.
On In The Crowd, power chords on the guitar interrupt what begins as an introspective piece of work. Weller's narcoleptic narrator stumbling through his day, and there are some intriguing lines: "an equilibrium melting pot," he, and all of, us "waiting for the change!" The track concludes with a flurry of noise, all chaotic percussion and searing, twangy guitar, Weller's nod to his influences in the form of his chanting Away From The Numbers on the fade, which is briefly reprised in best sixties fashion.
Billy Hunt is another long whinge. Lyrically similar to Elvis Costello, Weller had a lot to get off his chest. In fact, there is a strong case for the theory that all Weller did for a quick concept fix was to steal wholesale the storyline and character from Billy Liar, because the song is full of near duplicate scenarios, with its protagonist acting out his half-baked adolescent fantasies, railing away at authority. But it remains a compelling song nonetheless, with the band at rocket-pace throughout.
It's Too Bad is a lament, and it is the one most of us go through in our younger years, and later, sometimes.
The relationship hasn't worked out, angry words are exchanged, and there's no going back. We always end up shouting about it and isnt that usually the case? "Too much said for us to ever make up" is the key line for me, reeking of bitter recrimination and loss. A great song, really.
Fly is my personal favourite on the album, an introspective composition of some fragility. An acoustic guitar delicately picks out the tune to introduce Paul Weller's thoughtful vocal: "the way the sunlight flits across your skirt, makes me feel I'm in another world, to touch your face in the morning light, I hope youre always going to be around." Hardly Belsen Was A Gas, but who cares? If the material is this good then labels like punk and New Wave are rendered redundant. Rimshots on the snare, more acoustic noodling and some smooth double-tracking on the voice, help the mood up to the second refrain: "let's disappear love, lets fly away into the demi-monde, into the twilight zone." This unabashed romanticism gives way to the lovers' compulsive thoughts: "left helpless and at her feet, one shrug or smile can determine my fate." Strident guitars return, this time with a yearning quality that perfectly compliments the subject-matter, "now I can't live without you" he sings, mournfully.
The Place I Love has jagged, staccato guitars motoring it, Weller informing us that his private abode is always in the back of my mind a power-pop standard, this song lyrically recalls such 60's staples as Brian Wilson's In My Room. In a tour-de-force of sequencing, The Place I Love has come and gone before we are barely aware of it, and as the final chord decays into the distance, we are whipped back into reality by the brutal opening salvo of stabbing fuzz-guitar and clod-hopping cowbell as A Bomb in Wardour Street detonates in our face. Supplemented by splendidly vivid instrumentation, Weller recounts the nightmare we all dread: "through the haze I can see my girl, fifteen geezers got her pinned to the floor." The clouds of smoke linger and the law is nowhere in sight as the skinheads run riot. "There must be more!" he pleads, before some clever alliteration ends with its Doctor Marten's apocalypse! Boom! Wow, etc.
As if this wasnt exciting enough, All Mod Cons concludes with the second hit single from the album, the incredible Down In The Tube Station At Midnight. It's a sort of mixture, lyrically, of the previous track and Mr. Clean. Knackered after a days toil, our hero is waiting patiently for his ride home when skinheads come prowling down the platform. Weller tells it like it is, and it bloody hurts: "I first felt a fist, and then a kick" before going on to describe how his wife will be waiting for him at home. "It'll be a long wait" and there's a surprise in store for her. Weller's lyrical aproach here is so close to The Beatles, circa 1965/6, that it almost amounts to demonic possession. Remember the punch-line at the end of Drive My Car ("but I've found a driver and thats a start")? Written as short-stories but with tactics nicked from a stand-up comedian's routine, these songs depict real events but with a Roald Dahl sting in the tail: "they took the keys and she'll think its me" Weller intones, helplessly. So much for the fascinating lyrical contribution; the music that goes in tandem with it is mesmerising, razor-sharp and on the button in every aspect. Weird things happen on the opening bass line, and Rick Buckler must be congratulated on some nimble hi-hat work. After another reprise and outstanding guitar riffs, the subway train moves off into the distance bringing All Mod Cons to an end.
Forget the mod tag, it's not important. There is good music and there is bad, and this album is a superb piece of work.
SJ review No.6 The Monochrome Set