Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Jam 5: Sound Affects

Five albums in four years’ time is a lot, particularly when one calculates any in-between singles and B-sides. The Jam were still putting out inspired work, but they were evolving. The songs on Sound Affects are far away from the mod and punk influences of their earlier work (with one exception, which we’ll get to), and part of that distance comes from the implementation of more keyboards and horns.
One overt influence that gets mentioned with the album constantly is the Beatles’ Revolver—underscored in the US release, which begins with “Start!”, a fairly liberal musical theft of “Taxman”, from the bass line to the guitar solo. Likewise, it’s been pointed out that “But I’m Different Now”, the only song that sounds like 1977, is built around the two-chord hook from “Dr. Robert”. Original or not, they’re still two catchy tracks, and the parts Paul Weller did come up with on his own are excellent.
He was a fairly observant young man, concerned with the question of politics and social problems, even if he couldn’t offer any solutions of his own. “Pretty Green” is about money, whether it’s used to buy sustenance or empty entertainment. “Monday” offers a little respite in a hopeful love song, albeit one from someone who says he’s not “special”. That makes a good lead in to “But I’m Different Now”, which itself doesn’t prepare for the insistent riffing and anger of “Set The House Ablaze”—something of a conversation between those one-time friends on Setting Sons now on the opposite sides of the system. A solution is suggested by two minutes of communication in “Start!” Already a wordy album, a poem without rhymes is set to an acoustic strum in “That’s Entertainment” (except for the addition of a backwards guitar, and guess what album they got that idea from).
That’s a pretty strong album side, which can’t be said about the other. “Dream Time” begins with several seconds of muffled effects, and the structure of the tune itself isn’t any help either, instead forcing three different musical ideas together. (This strangeness is repeated two tracks later for the instrumental “Music For The Last Couple”, probably designed to drive them out of the building.) “Man In The Corner Shop” is an astute comparison of class perception over what sounds like several key changes, always going back to that wordless “la-la” hook. There’s another “la-la” break in “Boy About Town”, another should-have-been hit (maybe it’s the trumpets). Finally, there’s “Scrape Away”, built on the same complicated riff design as “Set The House Ablaze” and covering much of the same territory.
Sound Affects is not an easy album to “get into”; the overall tension and uncertainty illustrate the frustration Weller was starting to feel with his band’s capabilities. But that would only be seen in hindsight. The better songs stand out—and if you were one of the five people who bought it in America, you got a bonus 45 of “Going Underground” and “Dreams Of Children”, their excellent stopgap single from earlier in the year.

The Jam Sound Affects (1980)—3

1 comment:

  1. This is my personal favorite Jam album after All Mod Cons. I agree that many of the songs are not as strong individually as peak Jam can be, but together on the album, they add up to something special.