Monday, January 28, 2013

Jam 1: In The City

While they emerged amidst the punk scene, The Jam weren’t exactly a punk band. They didn’t dress in ripped shirts or leather, preferring dark suits and ties. (The bass player even sported a near-mullet.) Their music—generated by Rickenbackers through Vox amps—was influenced by “mod” bands from a generation earlier. They weren’t a power trio per se, but played just as loud as one. But Paul Weller’s sneered, slightly mushmouthed delivery of his own lyrics displayed anger and defiance, typical yet atypical of an 18-year-old kid whose Dad was the band’s road manager.
“In The City” was their first single, followed a month later by the album of the same name. In just over two minutes their sound is established: slashing guitar, pulsing bass and cracking drums at top speed. While they were never fully appreciated by Americans in their time, this song’s influence was obvious when only six months later the Sex Pistols stole the riff and slowed it down for “Holidays In The Sun”.
The early pop-art Who runs through this album, though not overtly. “In The City” itself shares a title but nothing else with the B-side of “I’m A Boy”. “Art School” opens the album with a power chord flourish. “I’ve Changed My Address” has a midsection of skittering drums and toggle-switch feedback right off the first Who singles. “Slow Down” was famously covered by the Beatles, but The Jam run their version through “My Generation”. (“Takin’ My Love” is another interpretation, and was also the B-side to the “In The City” single.) They even serve up a cover of the Batman theme.
Those mod bands, like the rest of the British Invasion, were fascinated by Motown, and “I Got By In Time” swings and swaggers, right down to the response vocals. This is not to suggest that they were copycats. Paul Weller established himself as a songwriter with the songs on this album. “Away From The Numbers” speaks out against following trends and fake friends; it even breaks the four-minute mark, unlike the compact tracks on the rest of the album. “Sounds From The Street” and “Non-Stop Dancing” evoke excitable youth, while “Time For Truth” and “Bricks And Mortar” are near protest songs (the former especially, spitting the f-word in the first verse).
In The City is an excellent debut, with barely a clunker in the batch. Its 32 minutes fly by with little relief, which is great for air-drumming. Besides, as young as they were, there was plenty of time to get introspective.

The Jam In The City (1977)—4

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