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Jam - 1977

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 23 / 12 / 2017

Jam - 1977


Malcolm Carter takes in a new box set of The Jam's first two albums, and reconsiders their value forty years on from their release in 1977.

One can only wonder how involved Paul Weller was with this box set. I don’t wish to be cynical but doesn’t its release fly in the face of some of the man’s principles? And its very existence is not very punk, is it? That said The Jam were never really a 'punk' band: like many others they were just caught up in a youth movement that emerged as they were making a name for themselves. Weller’s obsession with The Who’s early work and his liking for all things Mod placed The Jam on the outskirts of the punk scene. They would have been more accurately labeled a R’n’B/Mod band, especially during the period that this box set covers. Sadly, despite the lavish packaging, the two albums that form the main part of this collection still rate according to many fans as the weakest in The Jam’s recorded output. 'In The City', originally released in May 1977, suited the times. It was an energy-filled, raucous set which, at times, displayed hints of the astute songwriter that guitarist and main songwriter Paul Weller would develop into. But it took until the band’s third album, 'All Mod Cons', released in November 1978, and the last of that year’s trio of 45s, before that talent was fully realised and the band developed their own sound. Listening to the album 'In The City' today it doesn’t sound as shabby as I remembered. The covers of 'Batman Theme' and 'Slow Down' could have easily been left off but then maybe original material was thin on the ground when the band were put in the studio. Both bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler put in brilliant performances. While in 2017 Buckler seems to have left music (again), Foxton still tours as From The Jam while also periodically releasing solo albums which are closer to The Jam’s sound than any of Weller’s solo work. Foxton’s last album, 'Smash The Clock' is an absolute must for any Jam fan. The title track of the 'In The City' album is always going to be the highlight - not only because it was so many fans' introduction to the band but also because it’s a brilliant rush of teenage angst and brought back memories of classic Who to so many. Back in '77, though, 'Away From The Numbers' was the first indication that the band deserved more than the punk tag, or even the mod one. This reviewer's ears still hear The Beach Boys in there as well as Weller’s more obvious influences. Remember that Paul Weller was only 18 when the album was released (he turned 19 a few days afterwards) - his lyrics already showed signs that he attended the Ray Davies/Pete Townsend school of songwriting. His talent would come to fruition in a series of classic 45s and albums just a year later. For me this debut hasn’t been the go-to Jam album through the years but, with a few exceptions (those covers), listening again to it as a whole after all these years reveals that it is, in fact, a good solid bunch of songs. 'Sounds From The Street', 'Art School' and 'Bricks And Mortar' still sound relevant and fresh today - maybe not hearing them for some time has shone a new light on the songs and proven that Weller was an astute lyricist even back then. By the time you've finished listening to ‘In The City’ in 2017 it’s obvious that this was a pretty decent debut. The problem lies in what came after: once 1977 was out of the way there was no stopping either The Jam as a unit or Weller developing as one of our sharpest songwriters and whatever went before was bound to be shadowed by the brilliance of what The Jam produced from 1978 onwards. 'In The City' is only relegated to being a merely good Jam album in our memories by the fact that a year later Weller was writing more classic pop songs than any of his contemporaries. The second album, 'This Is The Modern World', was issued in November 1977 and, apart from the scathing title track (it didn’t take Weller long to have a swipe at those who'd doubted him) it didn’t exactly attract rave reviews. Maybe some of that was down to Weller being bluntly honest ("I don’t give two fucks about your review" from the title track). Looking back now the album displays Weller’s continuing evolution as a songwriter in songs such as 'Standards' and 'Life From a Window', and even tracks like 'The Combine' that didn’t really connect back in ’77 do sound good today. A pointless cover of 'In The Midnight Hour' is the low point, and while it was obvious from his two compositions that Foxton’s songwriting hadn’t yet reached the heights of Weller’s (or even those of the songwriter Foxton would become in later years) 'This Is The Modern World' actually isn’t the lacklustre album that memory would have you believe. Again it’s overshadowed by the greatness of what was to come next. So how have Polydor turned two albums into five discs? There are remastered versions of the two albums which take up two discs ('In The City' has the 'All Around The World'/'Carnaby Street' 7in tracks tagged on to the end), there’s a disc of Polydor demos which is interesting but hardly essential listening, a disc consisting of John Peel sessions from 1977 coupled with a live show from The Nashville recorded on 10 September 1977 which fans who attended will have to own, while the last disc is a DVD featuring promo videos for 'In The City' and 'Art School' plus TV appearances from So It Goes, Top Of The Pops and Marc - all from 1977, of course, and probably the deal-maker for buying these two albums all over again. Or it could be the obligatory five postcards and 144-page book. Either way, it’s time to reassess the two original albums.

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Jam - 1977

Jam - 1977

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