Paul Weller 1958–
Until his recent departure from the group, Weller wrote for the Jam, who were tentatively linked with Punk and New Wave rock and roll. In common with the bands in these movements, the Jam were young and enthusiastic and played simple, energetic music. Weller's lyrics, however, were more serious and socially oriented than those of most other songwriters. In contrast to the outrageous dress of many rock stars in the 1970s, the Jam had the unadorned appearance of 1960s mods—short haircuts, black mohair suits, white shirts, and black ties. Weller's songs and the group's music were influenced by the early Who, but the Jam updated their sound to make it fresh and exciting.
Weller directs his songs toward the under-twenty audience; he believes that bands like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Genesis no longer have anything to say to this age group. His songs often deal with such issues as corruption, alienation, waste, and class conflicts. Besides being socially relevant, Weller's lyrics describe the problems, aspirations, and hopes of young adults. The Jam were a huge success in England, but had only a cult following in America; nevertheless, most critics consider Weller to be one of the finest songwriters of the New Wave movement.
The Jam are a young three-piece band who have the potential of becoming the most commercially successful of the new wave outfits. I say new wave advisedly, since the Jam bear no relation to the mass conception of punk—whether it be quasi-anarchist politics or out and out mindless aggression.
The Jam are simply new, young and part of today's extensive musical reaction against the dinosaur bands who have dominated rock for the last eight years. Thus, they are new wave….
The Jam, comprehensive school educated, have played extensively in social clubs and dingy pubs for a considerable part of their two-year existence and the music they are making now represents the release of the frustration to which such a restricted environment must give birth.
On the evidence of ["In the City"], however, they've also controlled this outburst with a rare skill in musicians of their age and have produced tightly composed and performed songs. They've elected to include on this album just two of the half-dozen or more non-original songs they use in their normal repertoire—Larry Williams' "Slow Down" and Neal Hefti's "Batman Theme." The former is worthy of inclusion, the latter not….
[The Weller-composed songs] are anything but an embarrassment. In fact, he has a deft touch that, for me, places his material on a much higher plateau than almost anything his new wave contemporaries have...
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On their debut album, In the City, the Jam … present 12 tracks without a ballad among them, tracks that come from the center of a very live, alive, lively performing band…. The band's power and flair as a working-class trio is attractive; even more important, Weller's lyrics are as intriguing on paper and in your head as they are between chord changes….
They are dealing with the problem of authority and what the hell to do about it, but so subtly they're veritably Zen Buddhist compared to those who would batter down walls by knocking their heads against them. You see, anyone serious about trashing fat cats does so by simply ignoring those fucks and going their own way. It's the antithesis of the graffiti truism: "If it's illegal, it's fun." If you believe the scrawl, it follows that you won't do what you're allowed to do and that you must do what you ain't. The Jam realize that angry young men are no less boring than they ever were. But to build great music because things ain't right—yes, indeed….
They have a way with words …, as in Weller's lyric for ["I Got By in Time"], which show him to be conscious of self but not preoccupied with it: "Saw a girl that I used to know / I was deep in thought at the time / Didn't recognize her face at first / Because I was prob'ly looking at mine … we were young, we were full of ideas …"…
[In] "Time for Truth," Weller takes on a...
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The Jam is totally unheralded, but it is one of the most interesting groups to come out of Britain's punk scene. The group's obsession—probably guitarist/vocalist/writer Paul Weller's—with the Who is only slightly veiled: the band even goes so far as to cover Neal Hefti's "Batman Theme," which is definitely Keith Moon out of Jan and Dean if you ask me. And the title song [of In the City], of course, is modeled after Pete Townshend's song of the same name from the first Who LP.
Jam has a penchant for vulgarity unrivaled by anyone save Patti Smith, though this group's point is less poetical. The promotional copies of the LP carry a warning, advising DJs that "Art School" and "Time for Truth" contain "language that segments of your audience might find offensive."… Such a word to the wise ought to be sufficient.
Dave Marsh, in his review of "In the City," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1977; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 249, October 6, 1977, p. 89.
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As the title ["This Is the Modern World"] makes clear, the album's ostensible theme is the modern world, and contains … obviously contemporary lyrics….
Yet, as everyone knows, the Jam hark back to the mod mid-Sixties and Swingin' London….
[Even] some of the song-themes smack of the Sixties—complaints about "London Traffic" were rife then; "London Girl" is [David] Bowie's "London Boys" revisited (though no less relevant for that); and they've admitted that "Here Comes The Weekend" was a reworking of [The Easybeats's] "Friday On My Mind."
None of this matters as long as the material is fresh and exciting and transcends the limitations of a museum tribute…. Much of the record suffers, though, precisely because it's typical Jam—"Standards," "Here Comes The Weekend," "In The Street Today" and "The Modern World" are all adequate, but thoroughly ordinary, and don't represent any development on their first album, "In The City."
Some of the songs are lyrically weak as well. Take these well-meaning but ridiculous lines from a description of a frantic weekend's pleasure-seeking, much less effective than the Clash's "48 Hours." "If we tell you that you got two days to live / Then don't complains 'co that's one more than you got in Zaire / So don't hang around and be foolish / Do something constructive with your weekend." The expression is redolent of the earnest excess of sixth-form...
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This Is the Modern World is at once more intriguing and less exciting [than In the City] because, this time around, Weller's music lags behind his thought.
In less than a year, Weller's sensibility seems to have made a giant leap from The Who Sings My Generation to Tommy and especially Quadrophenia. On the most interesting of his new songs, punk desperation and truculence have given way to a wistful, reflective resignation that brings to mind not only later Pete Townshend but also Ray Davies: "Life from a Window" is a New Wave "Waterloo Sunset" and nearly as poignant, while … [some sentiments hark] back to The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.
Ken Emerson, in his review of "This Is the Modern World," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1978; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission). Issue 259, February 23, 1978, p. 52.
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With the release of their third album. All Mod Cons, the Jam find themselves in a jam. Careful never to identify too closely with either punk or the more artsy new wave, they share with both camps so many points of reference—right down to the time they emerged—that I, for one, can't help continuing to lump them among bands I know they shouldn't share quarters with. Yeah, I know they aren't jumping onto bandwagons; yeah, I know they don't offer a wholesale repudiation of the past. But they sound enough like the bands that do that I mix Jam records in with the punks and would-bes and they sound just fine. Maybe not this time though. All Mod Cons is a much less self-assured album than the first two this brazen bunch put out, and contains some of the best and worst work they've yet done. They seem confused, stopped at a multiple crossroad, getting passed at high speed on the left and right.
If the Jam have decided not to pursue the political/aesthetic points the punks were making a lot more loudly and visibly, well and good, but what makes All Mod Cons feel so tentative is that they don't seem to know the boundaries of the new territory they want to stake out. And they've done all the things you'd expect in such an insecure situation. They've rewritten "Away from the Numbers" from their first album as "In the Crowd," and even give it away by singing "Numbers" in the fadeout….
Paul Weller, the...
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For two albums, the Jam made leader Paul Weller's obsession with Pete Townshend and the early Who stand up as an acceptable substitute for personal vision. With All Mod Cons, Weller makes his move. The trouble is he can't decide between branching out into Ray Davies and the Kinks' bogus nostalgia for things never known or becoming an illiterate version of Bryan Ferry. The result is a record that's nearly catastrophic, weak at the surface and almost rotten underneath. (p. 74)
[Weller has] gone in for some of the most pretentious writing I've heard on a rock & roll record in years. "English Rose" is a half-witted schoolboy's rewrite of Sir Walter Scott, while "Fly" has all the disenchantment and none of the erudition of Bryan Ferry.
Paul Weller is at his best when he's indulging in fantasies. "Mr. Clean" is the Kinks' "A Well Respected Man" turned mad-dog vicious. It fails because straight suburbanites are safe targets. (The forebodings Weller has about his peers in "In the Crowd" are a lot more interesting.) Similarly, "Down in a Tube Station at Midnight" would work better if its hero had been stomped by his own kind rather than by right-wing creeps. The quintessential paranoia, though, is "'A' Bomb in Wardour Street," which is as much a miniature rewrite of Pete Townshend's "Won't Get Fooled Again" as it is anything. (pp. 74-5)
[Somewhere] the Jam has lost its punch. In "Billy Hunt," a...
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Within the framework of songs that form the entire bulk of the Jam's work to date lie two recurring themes. Theme One concerns itself with the documentation of the Great British Animal and its times. It's a line that can be followed through the lifestyles of such characters as the "London Girl" and "Mr. Clean", as well as taking in the pastimes ("Here Comes the Weekend"), violence ("A-Bomb In Wardour Street") and aspirations of (male) British working-class youth.
Theme Two is a bit more complex, and has surfaced in such songs as "Away From The Numbers", "Life From A Window" and "In The Crowd". It's the punk problem of balancing both the enforced isolation that craft and success demand, while remaining as near as possible to the all-important source material—in this case the Great British Animal. The trick is to avoid the dead-end imprisonment that bands such as Sham have run head on into without compromising the qualities that brought success in the first place. Progression is the key word here, and this album is the evidence.
Based around a thinly-veiled concept, ["Setting Sons"] reveals the Jam, and more pertinently Paul Weller, breaking away from the confinements of mod, punk, call it what you will. Weller has resolved this problem by shifting his viewpoint substantially to the (and I use the term kindly) middle of the road. Whereas before he railed at the absurdities and injustices of the Modern World, now he's...
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On Setting Sons, Weller's structures are getting more ambitious. Setting Sons, with its twin-stranded story lines, interlocking images and frequent tempo changes, the LP is in its way as unlikely a bidder for the Top 20 as the first Kinks singles were. Weller's lyrics allude to Eliot and Orwell; though his voice is raw, he seems to be talking down to the rock audience by paying far more attention to language than to conventional melody…. The biggest problem with Weller's nine new songs is that you have to pay close attention to what they say.
Setting Sons plunges further into the Jam's pet themes—conformity, aging, corruption, propaganda, and alienation, and imperialism. Frequently, Weller and [Bruce] Foxton deal in situations rather than characters, the better to decry modern England….
It's odd that writers and musicians with as much depth as Weller and the Jam haven't broken in America…. Maybe the current emphasis on melody in rock is bound to force a band whose greatest strengths are its lyrics and arrangements into second-class status. But for their verbal scope, as well as their pulsing, scurrying rhythms and '60s-inspired sound, the Jam should command more respect than they get.
Richard Hogan, "The Jam: Orwell Rocks" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1980), in...
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The Jam's first two LPs, In the City and This Is The Modern World, were full of powerful street images, fire and skill, but the group were celebrating the images, not the streets. They are a reactionary group in that their musical dreams lie in a golden rock past—schoolboy dreams….
The peculiarities of the Jam are Paul Weller's. He's a prickly auto-didact…. [He] still hears the great era of rock lyric writing as the 60's, Pete Townshend and Ray Davies, social relevance wth Mod nonchalance. (p. 43)
I ask Paul Weller if he will run out of things to say, exhaust the experience—dreary youth—that still informs his songs, but he takes himself seriously, doesn't value spontaneity anyway. All Mod Cons, the Jam's third LP, is a wonderfully clever record, particularly when you hear through its Mod artifacts and references, scattered about like debris from a party that went on too long. It's a record about disillusion, Weller's success songs, weariness/wariness at the top and all that. And, more powerfully, it's a record about the vacant heart of crowd culture, the teenage apathy that is the other side of the coin of rock's community. The Jam's best street song is here: "Down At The Tube Station At Midnight," a sour slab of London violence, tight and vengeful, skins and fascists, Dr. Marten's apocalypse. The truth is that the other punks, the Pistols and the Clash, were naive, cheerful, romantic....
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[With] Setting Sons, Weller seems to have come into his own.
Because it ultimately refers to class conflict, all English rock & roll is in a sense political—you almost can't avoid it, maybe because the island is just too goddamn small to let you ignore anything. Indeed, throughout Setting Sons, the world and history are closing in. The compositions here mesh and collide to create a dark, tightly packed, peculiarly British landscape of desolation. Memories of Empire clash with Welfare State shoddiness, while the vagaries of the caste system lock in dubious battle with a frustrated proletarian violence that's no longer revolutionary but simply a way of staving off boredom. In the street-fighting "Saturdays Kids," Weller interrupts his "Hate the system" chant to ask in bewilderment, "What's the system?," before jumping headlong back into the fray. "Burning Sky," the LP's urgent, tensely beautiful opener, uses rattling drums and martial guitars to turn a sellout's declaration that accepting repression is a kind of freedom into a cryptic, strangely stirring call to arms.
Such social paradoxes are reminiscent of the questing Clash of Give 'Em Enough Rope and the impassioned pop dialectics of Elvis Costello's Armed Forces—and even more so of middle-period Kinks. But Paul Weller isn't as complacent in his alienation as is Ray Davies. Instead he's torn, his voice hunting from anger to irony...
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PAULO HEWITT (Interview with PAUL WELLER)
Let's talk about your lyrics …
I find it hard talking about lyrics. It's what it is and it's hard for me to explain lyrics sometimes, unless I can gauge someone's reactions on what they feel the lyrics are about. Sometimes people come up with their own explanations, on what the lyric is about, which is better than I started out to do….
[You] said that you're a lot happier these days. Any reason for that?
No. None that I can give you. I just think you've got to remain a little optimistic. On "Setting Sons" for instance. I think a lot of the lyrics are trying to face up to things and I didn't see any kind of solutions at all. But this year I'm thinking you've got to be a bit optimistic, otherwise you go under and join the numbers.
That was one of the first things that struck me about that album, the bleak scenarios you were dealing with.
It is pretty bleak really … but I think it's all true.
Was that how you were leading your life at that time?
It's hard to say because I change so quickly. I get in different frames of minds, but I still think a lot of the things written, especially on that LP, are in a real general sense and pretty realistic. But what I'm saying is that now, I feel different. I still feel pretty hopeful, pretty optimistic. But next year I don't know. I just think about now....
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Weller is virtually alone in this wonderful world of pop in conspicuously giving a damn. The effort nearly cripples him at times too, but when it works it's blinding. "A Town Called Malice" [from "The Gift"] for example, once over that razorslash rhythm guitar and the restlessly pumping bass and drums, Weller suddenly unleashes lines like "It's enough to make you stop believing when tears come fast and furious / In a town called Malice".
It's when he backs off and lets the details fill themselves in that Weller's writing really cuts to the bone. When he tries for living-room drama, it's a bit like looking at a badly-lit TV studio on video tape….
There's a strong streak of the romantic in Paul Weller. It inevitably tends to colour his perceptions, and make his vision of class struggle and the indignity of labour seem over-simplified and at times almost Dickensian….
[Despite] the potency of some of the images, it's only when Weller uses his imagination and not just his eyes that the song ["The Planner's Dream Goes Wrong"], achieves anything more than impotent rage….
[There] has to be a special mention for "Ghosts", probably the most haunting and haunted song Weller has written…. Weller exorcises a few demons of his own: "That ain't no ghost—it's a reflection of you."…
It's probably pretentious to start picking up key images from these songs, but the...
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The Gift is the kind of solid but unspectacular effort that will mean a lot to fans but little to the unconverted.
Paul Weller is still absorbed in the plight of the British workers, and the closing tracks on each side offer solutions: on side one, "'Trans-Global Express," posits an international workers strike, while the little track makes the simpler, funkier suggestion. "Groove groove—to the beat of this drum." But the former song's ambitious lyrics are buried beneath the most pointlessly murky sound on the record, while the Jam's funk workouts are their least assured and most overextended outings. What's left, though, is a varied and enjoyable Jam record, highlighted by "Running on the Spot" and "Town Called Malice." On these tunes, Weller's complaints find the big, full sound that matches their fervor. It'll probably put them at the top of a few more English polls, but The Gift is not the record that will take them beyond this point.
Steve Pond, in his review of "The Gift," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1982; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 369, May 13, 1982, p. 67.
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Paul Weller is always one to take his responsibilities seriously. The Jam have become Mother Britain's top post-'77 band because—more so than ambulance-chasing leftists the Clash—the articulate high-octane anger and no-lead passion at the heart of this flash trio's mod-ified thrash speak directly to the people who feel it most, the disenfranchised youth quickly growing up into that country's broken, dispirited adults. With Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler's Union Jacked-up bass and drums thunder and Weller's Rickenbacker slam, they still can't help sounding like the Who. But it is that sound that has always given Weller's lyrical barrage of apocalyptic prophecy and working class cheerleading … its explosive force.
Weller is aware that the comfy rock life can reduce the strongest anger and heartiest passion to pretentious fizz, and The Gift … is his confrontation not only with the usual foes—racism, economic fascism, apathy—but the possibility of his own failing. Contrast "Happy Together," classic Jam crash'n' burn …, with the headbanging frustration of "Running On The Spot," a scathing indictment of liberal knee-jerking and a confession of his own ineffectualness. (p. 102)
He has a tendency to tilt at too many windmills and then wonder if he's spread himself too thin. But there's no question Paul Weller's causes have effect…. The revolution could receive no greater gift. (pp. 102, 104)...
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Faced with ["Dig The New Breed"], the final Jam LP, the temptation to wax lyrical, (not to mention boringly), about the group, their music and What It All Meant to thousands of people, is obvious; especially when you consider their importance and influence throughout the late Seventies/early Eighties.
That seductive allure of nostalgia and sentimentality is one, though, which defeats the object of The Jam in the first place. They may have been "about" a lot of things—some great music, youth excitement and trust—but as I remember it, The Jam always tried to look forward rather than backward and that's the way it should be. Unlike The Who, say, The Jam never bothered with tradition as such, and Paul Weller's decision to break up the band, coupled with the silver line of integrity he always sought in his songs and attitudes, was a prime example of this.
It was this stance that triggered an almost frightening degree of loyalty from his audience, and saw him tagged as a miserable, dour personality simply because he took his music SERIOUSLY. That doesn't matter now. But what his critics failed so patently to realise was that it was this dogged belief, garnered from punk days, that was one of the Jam's main attractions. Words like honesty and integrity are words that have no real relevance to the music business, but The Jam tried to breathe life into them and it's one of the over-riding factors on "Dig The New...
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