Their Most Important, but Not Their Best
Blake Maddux | Arlington, MA United States | 11/15/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have always been a bit bothered by the fact that 1978's All Mod Cons is considered by many to be The Jam's best record. If nothing else, this misjudgement steals the thunder of their actual best record, 1979's Setting Sons. AMC is simply not consistently impressive enough to qualify for this distinction. Granted, it was the record that sprung the band back to life after the critically and commercially lackluster This Is the Modern World. Thus, it allowed them to secure a legacy with even greater follow-ups. So while I agree that AMC was the most important album of The Jam's career, it only consistently pretty to really good, and indisputably great in only one case.
The trio of songs that open All Mod Cons includes the vitriolic title track, with verses that stumble over themselves as the guitar, bass, and drums stomp along in unison. "To Be Someone" seamlessly goes from dreams of stardom, to its realization (including guitar-shaped pools and cocaine), to its disappearance, all in the course of 2-1/2 minutes: "And the bread I spend is like my fame - its quickly diminished". Thankfully, Jam leader Paul Weller doesn't sound the least bit glib until "Mr. Clean", one of the weakest spots on the record. It's not that great of a song to begin with, but it is also unjustifiably venomous toward the square community. (Not everyone can be a cool, rich, devil-may-care rock star like you, Paul.)
The record picks up slowly but very surely after this. "David Watts", sung by bassist Bruce Foxton, is too faithful to the original version to be any sort of revelation, but it is enjoyable for the very same reason. It is also a subtle indication that Weller's main influence for the time being would be Ray Davies, not Pete Townshend. Still, the jaunty pop tune "It's Too Bad" - also a very enjoyable but not revelatory song - sounds like a re-write of The Who's "So Sad About Us", which The Jam also covered. (The more you get to know The Jam, implicit and explicit homages to The Who abound. For example, not only did The Jam cover a few Who songs, they also covered songs that The Who themselves covered, like "Heat Wave" and "Batman".) Weller also tosses in a few beautiful and affecting acoustic love songs, "English Rose" - the original name and inspiration for the band that would become The Stone Roses - and "Fly". Finally, there is the impassioned manifesto "In The Crowd", which is part of Weller's live show to this day, the punky "Billy Hunt", and the Clash-y, staccato "A-Bomb in Wardour Street".
AMC closes with a mini-mini-opera, the frightening hate crime tale "Down In the Tube Station at Midnight". This is one of Weller's two or three finest songwriting moments. His conviction is genuine, the music is sparse but rock solid (with Foxton's bass mimicing menacing footsteps), and the lyrical imagery is vivid from start to finish, with brilliant lyrics like "They smelt of pubs, and Wormwood Scrubs, and too many right-wing meetings". Weller, showing a keen ability to read the news one day and recreate it in song the next, comes so completely into his own on this song that it squashes all claims that he was a Pete Townshend wannabe or a punk poseur, which were baseless to begin with. (But I must say that he sings with such force that his English accent, which is perfect for The Jam's blend of punk/pop/mod-rock, might sound a bit unintelligible to American ears.)
The Jam's All Mod Cons had to happen. As evinced by their subsequent string of top 40 hits, including four #1s, they simply had too much great stuff in them for their career to be stillborn by a sophomore slump. Weller's lyrics on AMC were more trenchant than before, and he, Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler benefited more than ever from being great players, which was more important to their sound than being great musicians. And even if Weller's songwriting slips in a few spots (eg, "Mr. Clean", "The Place I Love"), one should keep in mind that he was barely 20 years old when the album was being recorded. All Mod Cons was where The Jam became great, but over the next few years, they would become even greater."
Diversity's the name of today's game
finulanu | Here, there, and everywhere | 12/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'd call this my favorite punk album, but the truth is it's about as far from punk as you can get. There's only one fast, furious rocker, and it's the strongest song here: the emotional, hook-filled punk ballad "To Be Someone (Didn't We Have a Nice Time)" is probably the most rewarding song in the Jam's catalogue. Of course, I've only heard two of their albums, so I can't say squat about their whole catalogue, but I do really enjoy the song. There's also a mid-tempo punk song, "A-Bomb on Wardour Street", and its guitar solo makes it a high point too. Anyway, this is a very diverse album: there's demented new wave ("Mr. Clean"; "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight"), folk (the lovely, touching "English Rose"), folk-rock ("Fly"), music hall (A tremendous cover of the Kinks' satirical "David Watts"), Beatle-esque pop-rock ("It's Too Bad", with a funny interpolation of "She Loves You"; "The Place I Love", with a Creedence-like riff). Not only do they try all of these styles, they do well with each one: it's an ambitious, eclectic disc with strong songwriting that never forgets about the importance of the melody, even on the nastier songs ("A-Bomb"; "To be Someone"). This is nominal punk for people who don't think they don't like punk, but it's more than that: it's far-reaching, well-crafted, intelligent, funny, quirky, and a must-have by any standard."
To Be Someone
Paul Ess. | Holywell, N.Wales,UK. | 12/16/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first completely indispensable Jam album - this demonstrates fully the wisdom of allowing strong, if highly-strung talents essential breathing space, and the result is one of the best albums of the seventies.
There's no padding here, 'All Mod Cons' in its entirety is simply, gloriously brilliant.
It's got 'Tube Station' for a start. A colossal Jam song. The album version even better than the single with an isolated despondent Rickenbacker outro, instead of the jutting sharpness of the chart attacker.
'Mr Clean', 'English Rose', 'In the Crowd', 'A-Bomb' it's an impressive list, matching easily anything coming out of the Clash at the time. 'Fly' is a ravishing piece of Weller lyrical romanticism; icy smooth but warming, deeply soulful and resonant. 'Fly' sums up 'AMC' in 3½ divine minutes.
There's seriously meaty power songs trailing back to 'In The City', but here they have drive and direction. The extra time allowed enabling them to be honed into the marble-pure statements of anger and frustration which signify 'AMC' equally as much as the beautiful and the whimsical.
Weller was untouchable at this time and there was talk of him quitting while he was ahead.
Luckily for the world he didn't."