Paul Weller Essay - Critical Essays

Weller, Paul

Introduction

Paul Weller 1958–

British songwriter.

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.

Brian Harrigan

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 attempted….

Apart from the title track, "In The City," which, to these ears, is the very best of the new wave anthems, the stand-out title is "Non-Stop Dancing," which is a medium-paced chunk of R&B boogie and features an aggressive choked-off vocal and even a reference in the lyrics to James Brown, which in itself underlines the band's commitment to the spirit of the early Sixties….

Understandably, many potential buyers will be put off this album because of the band's tenuous links with punk, but not giving it at least one listen would be a mistake. Lay down your prejudices and give them a try—they're guaranteed not to disappoint.

Brian Harrigan, "Who? It's the Jam," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), May 28, 1977, p. 23.

Dan Oppenheimer

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 certain Uncle Jimmy, who may be a straw man or a real character in his life. Weller hints that this character is just another poor fuck, but says with finality, "You lost, Uncle Jimmy, you lost." And then he growls, "What ever happened to the great empire?"

My God, that's what I always wanted to know. I could care less about glue and safety pins.

Dan Oppenheimer, "Jam Shakes Like This" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1977), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXII, No. 35, August 29, 1977, p. 73.

Dave Marsh

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.

Chris Brazier

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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Ken Emerson

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.

Ed Ward

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...

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Dave Marsh

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...

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Paulo Hewitt

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...

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Richard Hogan

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....

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Simon Frith

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...

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Tom Carson

[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...

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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...

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Adam Sweeting

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...

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Steve Pond

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...

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David Fricke

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....

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Paolo Hewitt

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,...

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