Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Jam: Snap!

In 1983, maybe a year or so after the band broke up, I bought a double LP called Snap! by The Jam.  Other than my first hearing of Led Zeppelin as a 13-year old and that of Prince's 1999, I hadn't, to that date, been so blown away by a band or an album as I was on first listening to the retrospective of the British trio of Paul Weller (guitar, vocals), Bruce Foxton (bass, backing vocals), and Rick Buckler (drums.)

The twenty-eight song album is a remarkable overview of a band that, in just five years, became a profoundly popular group in its native England, while barely making any impact at all in the United States.  Indeed, the only song I'd heard by The Jam (and I listened to radio a lot then and hardly at all since the mid-1980s) was "Town Called Malice," which can occasionally be heard today. 

Otherwise, the trio was "too British", it was supposed, to be accepted in America, which only goes to show how pathetic provincialism can be.  Snap! is a fantastic album by a great band and led to the purchase and exploration of the group's proper albums, singles, and live recordings. 

Many years later, the 5-CD box set, Direction, Reaction, Creation, was purchased and is a great compilation for devoted fans.  For those who are interested in The Jam, but don't have the need or desire for such a massive collection, Snap! is a recommended entre to the band.

The first two albums, In the City and This is the Modern World, came out in 1977 while the punk movement was still strong in England, but the band's music was really based more on the mod influences of The Who, The Small Faces, and other British bands, such as The Kinks and, of course, The Beatles, of the mid and late 60s, as well as of Motown-influenced soul and R & B.  Then, in 1978, the band hit its stride with the remarkable All The Mod Cons, and an incredible string of singles, some hitting #1 on the U.K. charts, and albums like Setting Sons and Sound Affects showed the band at its apex. 

Great songs (all penned by Weller) like "Start;" "That's Entertainment;" "Funeral Pyre;" "A-Bomb in Wardour Street;" "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight;" "The Eton Rifles;" and "Going Underground" were instant classics in England and completely ignored Stateside.  As excellent as these were, there were others that, while not as renowned, were also classic songs, including Foxton's "Smithers-Jones" and Weller's "Dreams of Children;" "When You're Young;" "Tales from the Riverbank;" "Thick as Thieves;" "The Butterfly Collector;"  "Strange Town;" and a personal favorite, the sublime "Man in the Corner Shop."

While the band's final studio effort, The Gift, was an attempt to change the sound and introduce more R & B, soul, and pop elements, it was not as successful as earlier efforts and Weller was starting to be overwhelmed by success and its attendant pressures.  Consequently, in a daring move, he decided to leave the group at its pinnacle and a last tour and the release of the singles "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)" and "Beat Surrender" marked the end of The Jam. 

Weller went on to form The Style Council, which had a sound that moved firmly into pop territory, albeit with a diverse array of sounds and a continuing interest in politically-informed lyrics and, after a spectacular demise there, went into a solo career in the 90s that brought him greater renown than ever.  How many musicians can lay claim to having three successful phases of a career?  It's a testament to his abilities as a songwriter. 

As to the other members, Buckler and Foxton wrote a bitter book about The Jam, which further widened the existing divide with Weller.  Foxton released a solo album not long after The Jam's breakup and then played for 16 years with Stiff Little Fingers.  Buckler, who was out of music for years, formed The Gift in 2006 with two other musicians to play The Jam songs.  When Foxton joined a year or so later, the group was renamed From The Jam, though Buckler departed in 2009.  Though Weller, true to his nature, adamantly refused to consider any reunion with his old bandmates, he did return to speaking terms with Foxton, who, in recent years, has appeared on stage and in the studio with Weller.  Buckler and Weller, however, have not spoken all these years.  Lately, a project called Foxton has been announced, in which the bassist is working with drummer Mark Brzezicki (from the popular Eighties band Big Country) and vocalist/guitarist Russell Hastings.  The record is being made at Weller's studio and he plays on many tracks along with Ray Davies of The Kinks and Steve Cropper of Sixties band Booker T and the MGs.

In any case, you probably cannot find a better career retrospective anywhere than Snap!, which was first released in a 21-song single CD edition and then, later, in a double CD package and a 3-CD special edition.  Thirty years will have passed at the end of this year since The Jam dissolved, but so much of their music is still fresh and timeless and Snap! captures the best of it.

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