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 The Village Voice, Vol. XXV, No. 11, March 17, 1980, p. 63.