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Dave Goodwin examines Paul Weller's band the Style Council's latest box set, which compiles together all six of their original albums
Paul Weller was the founder member of The Jam, which also included Bruce Foxton and had a string of hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s including the well known ‘Going Underground’, ‘A Town Called Malice’ and ‘Beat Surrender’. Weller has gone on to be more than a household name in music, and as a solo artist is still recording and touring new material. Mick Talbot was born in Merton, South London, and played with the Merton Parkas, Dexys Midnight Runners and the Bureau. He is still a member of the new reworked Dexys, and has also toured with Candi Staton.
When Paul Weller shocked Jam fans and the media world and broke up the most popular British band of the early 80s, my neighbourhood was devastated. The Jam were at the height of their success when this happened in 1982. Apparently frustrated by the musical direction they were heading in, he wanted to explore music with a more soulful edge, and as the story goes he handed a box of choice soul 45's to new member and keyboardist Mick Talbot. The box contained singles from artists such as Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, the Four Tops and the Motown Spinners and other soulful cuts. He also stated publicly that he wanted to go down this route. At the time, again, we were devastated, but then came the release of the first single from the newly formed Style Council. Now, over thirty years later, Universal have released 'Classic Album Selection', a six CD box set of all the Style Council’s original albums.
1. ‘Introducing The Style Council’ (1983)
This was quite an eclectic introduction to the new Weller, as it has just seven songs should be classed as an EP more than it should an album.
The first single release was the superb ‘Speak Like a Child’, and wasn't that far removed from The Jam’s latter more soulful outings. When the follow-up single ‘Money Go Round (Part 1) ’came out, it seemed also to be a sort of continuation of the last band but with new members. But ‘Long Hot Summer’, the third single to come from it - and one of my favorite tracks of all time. – changed all that and split the Weller fans straight down the middle. The once serious Jamster was now floating down a river singing about love and weather. For some it was too much. For me, it was perfect.
Looking back now, the tracks on this first outing are some of the best and consistent of all the Style Council's repertoire. All four of its singles did pretty well in the charts too. 'Speak Like a Child' went to no. 4, 'Long Hot Summer' to no. 3 and 'Money Go Round’ and the band’s fourth single 'A Solid Bond in Your Heart’ peaked at 11. As well as Weller and Talbot, the band at that stage featured Tvocalist Tracie Young and drummer Steve White.
2. ‘Cafe Bleu’ (1984)
Released in March 1984, Cafe Bleu' reached no. 2 in the UK album charts and is the closest in comparison of all the Style Council’s albums to ‘Introducing The Style Council’. Like the first outing, it is an eclectic and ambitious album, but is calmer in tone and with its classic pop sound, jazzy/beat instrumentals and laid back vibes.
It also contains another clutch of timeless Weller writing, and both the Top 5 hits 'My Ever Changing Moods' and 'You're The Best Thing' as well as 'Headstart for Happiness', three of Weller's greatest pop deliveries.
The ensemble now featured soul singer Dee C. Lee and rapper Dizzy Hites on some tracks, and it seemed like Weller was beginning to try out new ideas and drift into new genres.
3. 'Our Favourite Shop' (1985)
'Our Favourite Shop' was in effect the second full-length Style Council, album and was another diverse collection. Weller seemingly ignited his political flame to target racism, excessive consumerism and the effects of self-awarding and tiresome government making. This was the only Style Council album to reach the elusive no.1 spot.
The album, whilst still staying true to the Style Council's soulful roots, features the Top 10 singles 'Shout to the Top' and 'Walls Come Tumbling Down', as well as some of Weller's best songs.
Titled 'Internationalists' in the States, Weller admits that “I had a total belief in The Style Council. I was obsessed in the early years. I lived and breathed it all. I meant every word, and felt every action. 'Our Favourite Shop' was its culmination". Did he mean the output after this point wasn't that great? The album also included a plethora of other artists, and most notablly comedian Lenny Henry, Alison Limerick who would later move on to the Acid Jazz' Label and a return for Tracie Young, who had been absent from 'Cafe Bleu'.
4. 'The Cost of Loving' (1987)
'The Cost of Loving' is generally seen as a turning point in the Style Council's career, and saw them concentrating on a more urban-soul style, influenced and mixed in part by soul music pioneer and legend Curtis Mayfield. It is heavily influenced by the contemporary House music scene of the time. It did however spawn another Weller masterpiece in the soulful 'It Didn't Matter', a timeless slab of finger clicking pop.
Tracks from the album were included in the band's surreal film 'Jerusalem', a 37 minute explanation of the band themselves. Apart from 'It Didn't Matter', there was nothing really of any distinction here and it was indeed received as a little disappointing by many. Weller was critically advised to stick to what he did best, rather than meddling around with genres in which he knew nothing, or at least very little about.
Personnel on this one was kept to a minimum with Weller and Talbot being backed by Dee C. Lee and Steve White.
5. 'Confessions of a Pop Group' (1988)
'Confessions of a Pop Group' was arguably the Style Council's most experimental album. It could also be said to be the band's most fan divisive album. It had smatterings of the Beach Boys, and also classical music and jazz influences, due to the fact that Weller was listening to Debussy and Satie around the time that this album was made.
Moving further and further away from the old days of the Jam, it had a jazz feel to it, none more so obviously than the mega 'The Gardener of Eden (A Three Piece Suite'. It was at this point that the Jam followers that had hung on to Wellers new found wanderings had decided that enough was enough, and that the change had gone a tad too far. Many did not buy the album, which sold poorly compared to the other releases. There were, however, some good pop tunes on the album, 'Life at a Top People's Health Farm', the brilliant 'How She Threw It All Away' and 'Why I Went Missing'.
6. 'Modernism: A New Decade' (1989, but not released until 1998)
Weller had chosen another new direction for the Style Council's last album 'Modernism; A New Decade', which was an ill-received take on the UK deep-house and garage scene. It did feature, however, the wonderfully gospel-tinged 'Promised Land' which was the band's penultimate single. 'Sure is Sure', the band's final single went on to become a big dance hit throughout Europe and beyond.
Upon its completion in 1989, 'Modernism: A New Decade' was, however, rejected by their label Polydor, which lead to the bands' demise shortly afterwards.
This box set is a great way of discovering the Style Council if you have not discovered them yet. The albums here are as they were back then, with nothing added and nothing taken away. There is brilliance, and other tracks which are less effective. Weller’s best, however, is better than almost anyone else's best, and even his worst is better than most people's best too.