This is my Amazon.com review from November 15, 2006. Perhaps I should have said in the third paragraph that the cover of The Kinks song “David Watts” was an indication that Paul Weller’s main influence was shifting from Pete Townshend to Ray Davies. After all, the influence of The Who is still pretty evident on this album. Otherwise, I am pretty happy with this review, and a couple people have made some nice comments about it on Amazon.
I have always been a bit bothered by the fact that 1978’s All Mod Cons is considered by many to be The Jam’s best record. If nothing else, this misjudgement steals the thunder of their actual best record, 1979’s Setting Sons (click for my Amazon review). AMC is simply not consistently impressive enough to qualify for this distinction. Granted, it was the record that sprung the band back to life after the critically and commercially lackluster This Is the Modern World. Thus, it allowed them to secure a legacy with even greater follow-ups. So while I agree that AMC was the most important album of The Jam’s career, it only consistently pretty to really good, and indisputably great in only one case.
The trio of songs that open All Mod Cons includes the vitriolic title track, with verses that stumble over themselves as the guitar, bass, and drums stomp along in unison. “To Be Someone” seamlessly goes from dreams of stardom, to its realization (including guitar-shaped pools and cocaine), to its disappearance, all in the course of 2-1/2 minutes: “And the bread I spend is like my fame – its quickly diminished.” Thankfully, Jam leader Paul Weller doesn’t sound the least bit glib until “Mr. Clean,” one of the weakest spots on the record. It’s not that great of a song to begin with, but it is also unjustifiably venomous toward the square community. (Not everyone can be a cool, rich, devil-may-care rock star like you, Paul.)
The record picks up slowly but very surely after this. “David Watts,” sung by bassist Bruce Foxton, is too faithful to the original version to be any sort of revelation, but it is enjoyable for the very same reason. It is also a subtle indication that Weller’s main influence for the time being would be Ray Davies, not Pete Townshend.
Still, the jaunty pop tune “It’s Too Bad” – also a very enjoyable but not revelatory song – sounds like a re-write of The Who’s “So Sad About Us,” which The Jam also covered.
In fact, the more you get to know The Jam, implicit and explicit homages to The Who abound. For example, not only did The Jam cover a few Who songs, they also covered songs that The Who themselves covered, like “Heat Wave” and “Batman.”
Weller also tosses in a few beautiful and affecting acoustic love songs, “English Rose” – the original name and inspiration for the band that would become The Stone Roses – and “Fly”. Finally, there is the impassioned manifesto “In The Crowd”, which is part of Weller’s live show to this day, the punky “Billy Hunt”, and the Clash-y, staccato “A-Bomb in Wardour Street.”
AMC closes with a mini-mini-opera, the frightening hate crime tale “Down In the Tube Station at Midnight.” This is one of Weller’s two or three finest songwriting moments. His conviction is genuine, the music is sparse but rock solid (with Foxton’s bass mimicing menacing footsteps), and the lyrical imagery is vivid from start to finish, with brilliant lyrics like “They smelt of pubs, and Wormwood Scrubs, and too many right-wing meetings.”
Weller, showing a keen ability to read the news one day and recreate it in song the next, comes so completely into his own on this song that it squashes all claims that he was a Pete Townshend wannabe or a punk poseur, which were baseless to begin with. (But I must say that he sings with such force that his English accent, which is perfect for The Jam’s blend of punk/pop/mod-rock, might sound a bit unintelligible to American ears.)
The Jam’s All Mod Cons had to happen. As evidenced by their subsequent string of top 40 hits, including four #1s, they simply had too much great stuff in them for their career to be stillborn by a sophomore slump.
Weller’s lyrics on AMC were more trenchant than before, and he, Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler benefited more than ever from being great players, which was more important to their sound than being great musicians. And even if Weller’s songwriting slips in a few spots (e.g., “Mr. Clean”, “The Place I Love”), one should keep in mind that he was barely 20 years old when the album was being recorded. All Mod Cons was where The Jam became great, but over the next few years, they would become even greater.
(The video above is the 36-minute DVD that is included with the 2006 deluxe edition of All Mod Cons.)