The Jam is an important band in shaping modern rock. Paul Weller is an important figure in inspiring a shit load of rock stars of the last 35 or so years. So why have I never listened to the Jam? Why can’t I name a single song by The Jam off the top of my head? I’m sure I know plenty of their songs, just without knowing that they are by the band. But the whole mod movement just passed me by.
For one reason, it was winding down around the time I was born. For another reason, no one I know ever went through a Jam phase. It happened with Zeppelin, it happened with The Doors, it happened with Hendrix, The Beatles and countless other bands who were dead or broken up long before I was born. But no one I know my age ever told me I needed to hear The Jam. So I never did. But the older I get, the more enduring the legacy of the band and Weller seems to become. So it’s time to bite the bullet and see what all the fuss is about with All Mod Cons.
Mr Clean might be guitar, bass and drums, but you can hear the influence it would clearly have just a few years later. Replace those traditional rock instruments with synth, and it wouldn’t sound out of place on most pop albums from the early 80s.
By track 4, David Watts, I felt like I was starting to get hang of this whole mods thing. The songs are as tight as the suits they wore and everything sounds like barley contained spite, rage and discontent. Almost like if the songs got even the slightest bit looser, they would spin out of control and do something they’d later regret.
That slight grasp I started to have was then revealed to be a sham when All Mod Cons threw English Rose (and later, Fly) at me. Genuine tenderness and heartfelt sentiment that make me wonder if Paul Weller somehow predicted the above paragraph way back in 1978 and decided to make me look like a real dick.
The Jam flips the script again with In the Crowd. By far the most timeless track on the album, this could be released today and sound pretty fresh and contemporary. Then we get Billy Hunt, the first sign of any sort sense of humour or joy within The Jam. I don’t know if the lyrics have a sense of humour, or a dark and depressing, but the song bounces along musically in a way that’s heard nowhere else on All Mod Cons.
As things wind down, The Place I Love has a real Elvis Costello feel to it, while ‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street returns to the borderline synth pop sound of earlier tracks. Then it’s time for Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, a song that’s as straight forward and one dimensional as its title.
Maybe they’re a victim of being imitated too cheaply and too often in intervening years. Maybe they’re a little over my head. Maybe I chose the wrong album as my entre. Or maybe they’re just overrated. Whatever the reason, underwhelmed is the word that comes to mind when thinking about The Jam and All Mod Cons. I’d never call it bad, but I’d also never imagine myself ever listening to it ever again.