Paul Weller Dave Marsh - Essay

Dave Marsh

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 song about a discontented laborer, Weller says: "No one pushes Billy Hunt around, / Well they do but not for long." This notion about the inconsequential—that every gesture's only a gesture—probably speaks very directly to the gamesmanship of current rock. But what's rock & roll worth without a sense of triumph, and the feeling that every gesture is also a blow for identity? (p. 75)

Dave Marsh, in his review of "All Mod Cons," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1979; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 291, May 17, 1979, pp. 74-5 [the excerpt of Paul Weller's lyrics used here was taken from "Billy Hunt" (© 1978 And Son Music Ltd.; reprinted by permission of And Son Music Ltd.)].