My six-year-old review of Sound Affects by The Jam (originally posted on Amazon on November 30, 2006). Damn what an awesome band.
“Sound Affects is my favourite Jam record”
These are the words of Jam leader Paul Weller. While Sound Affects is not my personal favorite, he clearly has good taste in his own music. Sound Affects was the third in a trio of brilliant, pun-titled records by The Jam. It was also their first collection of all original material.
The #1 double A-side “Going Undergroud/The Dreams of Children” preceded the record’s release, and served as a perfect appetizer for the forthcoming LP. Their fifth record was their most pop-oriented album, including not only 2 hit singles, but a handful of other pop numbers as well. Of course, Weller was not about to leave his more constructively cynical side behind, so there are also several less sunny tracks. But all of the songs are strong and catchy, powered by sharp experimental production and deliberately more poetic lyrics.
Sound Affects opens with the buoyant “Pretty Green,” which features Bruce Foxton’s always superb thumping bass lines, and “Monday,” which offers the album’s first taste of pleasantly faint psychedelia. The punky pop ditty “But I’m Different Now” picks up the pace, breezing by in less than 2 minutes.
Horns adorn “Boy About Town,” another snappy 2-minute number, but the most impressive of these non-single pop songs is “Man in the Corner Shop.” This track shows that Weller was still in Ray Davies-mode, depicting how 3 classes of people interact with each other on a daily basis, with the factory worker envying the shopkeeper, who in turns envies the factory owner. They come together only on Sundays, when all of them kneel before God as – of course – equals (right?).
(Not the official video, but I like it.)
The songs that form the core of the record are “Start!” and “That’s Entertainment.” The former, which was their second #1 single in a row, should sound familiar even to those who have never heard it (Weller once claimed, perhaps a bit disingenuously, that he was thinking more of James Brown than the obvious source).
“That’s Entertainment” reached only #21 in the UK, but this was as an import: it wasn’t even released in Britain as a single. This was a testament to the band’s enormous popularity at the time, and the song has become perhaps the band’s most timeless cut. The lines in this song are one picture-perfect image after another, depicted vividly by Weller’s impeccable British English.
By this time, Weller had earned his place among those who had inspired him (Davies, Townshend, Lennon), and was well on his way to inspiring the next generation of British songwriters, including Morrissey, who did a significantly altered cover of “That’s Entertainment.”
Interspersed among these pop songs are slices of Weller’s brand of healthy cynicism, captured best in the lyrics to “Dream Time”: “Their hate comes in frozen packs bought in a supermarket”. Note how this songs begins with a winding, backward intro, a trick previously heard on “The Dreams of Children.”
There is also the dark, dissonant “Set the House Ablaze,” with its creepy whistling and main riff that was clearly stolen by Bloc Party for some song that I once heard playing in a record store (I don’t know the title). Finally, the largely instrumental “Music For the Last Couple” and the confrontational closer “Scrape Away” highlight the wonderful interplay among Weller, Foxton, and Buckler.
Over the course of their remarkable 5-year recording career, The Jam never stood still or rested on its laurels. Paul Weller was a young man in a hurry, and he took his band through punk, rock, pop, and R&B at a sweeping pace. The Jam never attained the gravitas of contemporaries The Clash, but they were the most popular English band of the punk era.
Albums like Sound Affects demonstrated that The Jam had the pop smarts to afford them such commercial success, and enough attitude, intelligence, and talent to make them one of the truly greatest British bands ever. After five years of being a fan, it is still refreshing to reminded of their greatness each time I delve into their records anew. But still, I won’t hold my breath that any of their albums will appear on a Rolling Stone or VH-1 countdown any time soon.