Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jam 3: All Mod Cons

A whopping twelve months passed between Jam albums, and it was worth the wait. Appetites were whetted with two excellent singles—first, a faithful cover of the Kinks’ “David Watts”, which helped in that band’s New Wave revival, while the B-side spoke of an “‘A’ Bomb In Wardour Street”, continuing the link to the Mod generation while staying firmly in the present (spelling out the word “apocalypse” and ending with an explosion). It was their next single that grabbed the attention. “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight”, quite simply, is a first-person real-time account of a mugging in the London Underground. The sound effects aside, it’s a harrowingly edgy song, from the jagged guitar slashes to the funk-noise bass. The verses extend the tension, and each chorus shows the victim more helpless than the last, up to the final realization that his wife may not be safe.
All three of these songs were included on All Mod Cons, a title that combined with the cover art for a clever British pun. They certainly enhance the program, just as the writing and musicianship has gained sophistication.
It would appear that the tribulations of fame are top of mind, with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it title track questioning the motives of fairweather friends, and “To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have A Nice Time)” already looking back at success that has passed. In both cases, the words are spit out and garbled under catchy chords and riffs. “Mr. Clean” looks at success from another angle; this time the object would appear to an upwardly mobile businessman, a subject not alien to Kinks fans, but here the singer threatens to topple him at first chance. The Kinks connection is underscored by the placing of “David Watts” next, but what follows is another departure. “English Rose” fades in on the sound of foghorns and lapping waves, before a gently picked acoustic helps sing to the “one true love” of the title. (Paul Weller was apparently so embarrassed by the words that he purposely left them off the lyric sheet.) The excellent “In The Crowd” ends the side, an ambivalent ode to the comforts and trappings of conformity. It’s shows the effect age has on the teenage drive, recalled over the second half of the song, an extended one-chord Who homage incorporating backwards guitars masking the transition from the repeat of “in the crowd” to “away from the numbers”. A tour de force.
“Billy Hunt” would appear to be the name of the young lout complaining about his job, showing his immaturity with revenge fantasies based on Superman, James Bond and even Steve Austin. “It’s Too Bad” is a decent pop song nicely influenced by The Who’s “So Sad About Us”, which The Jam had covered quite well for the “Tube Station” B-side. “Fly” is cut from similar cloth as “English Rose”, but with an electric coating on the acoustic base. “The Place I Love” is a Weller (read: defiant) interpretation of the “In My Room”/“There’s A Place” lyrical theme. The ending segues well as a setup for “‘A’ Bomb In Wardour Street”, itself leading well to “Tube Station”, which couldn’t really go anywhere else on the album but the end.
All Mod Cons is an excellent progression for this young band, with the slower songs just as strong as the fast ones. Hearing different guitars adds dimension, as does the subtle touches of piano and organ here and there. It seemed they’d finally found “their” sound.

The Jam All Mod Cons (1978)—

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