The Jam: Studio Recordings – box set review
The Jam ‘Studio Recordings’ (UMC/Polydor)
Vinyl Box Set out
Due Out 25th Nov 2013
The Jam – everything under one roof on vinyl, remastered and reviewed by Joe Whyte.
Firstly, it has to be noted, coming in at around seventy quid, The Jam Studio Recordings box set isn’t cheap; on the back of the recent Clash reissues it seems to be a bit of a trend at the moment to repackage deluxe versions of previously available, punk-era albums remastered and digitally enhanced for the completist and the novice alike.
That said, like the band themselves, this is a beautifully presented, well-dressed work of art and unlike the Clash one, it doesn’t quite scream rip off to the same extent.
If you’re the regular type of well rounded, good-taste-inherent Louder Than War reader, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the music herein. The Jam made some of the most crucial and important music of the late 20th Century and its longevity is a testament to a band that played by their own rules and walked it like they talked it.
I’m informed by one who knows (a mate at work who’s a real Jam fanatic) that the albums have all been released on CD as remasters in the recent past; nonetheless, for the audiophiles among us, vinyl is the final frontier and it’s just so right for The Jam. We all owned these records first time around and to see them spit new in this gorgeous package set my heart a-racing just a wee bit faster.
To the music. I wont bother doing a track by track analysis, simply because you really should know all of these and if you don’t, well there’s something deeply wrong with you.
Firstly, the sound is crisper; the remastering process seems to have separated out some of the dirt and grunge that was in the original releases. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing amiss about them but 1970’s pressing and cheap vinyl generally did music like this few favours. They tended to sound slightly dense and murky at times although by the same token, the warmth of the sound of vinyl was something that went MIA in the CD era.
Thankfully, these reissues have maintained that valve-y warmth and growl without compromising the clarity. I’ve Changed My Address from In The City is now sweet, soulful ear candy and the sound of Weller’s guitar is all Wilko feedbacking fury and Stax spike. The mid-section where Weller’s overdubbed power chords mesh with his rhythm guitar is simply thrilling. Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton sound as if they’re playing in your living room and one can really appreciate the taughtness of the young band which honed its skills in working men’s clubs playing soul and blues. Away From The Numbers is a classic whichever way you look at it and I sometimes wonder if the young Weller ever wrote a more fully-formed song. Here, its simple grace and grandeur remains undiminished and Weller’s vocal is astonishingly mature for such a youngster.
On one of the earlier reissues, (The Jam at The BBC I think?) there was an extra CD of demo tracks. It was quite an eye opener to hear and to read that Weller recorded all the instruments himself and brought the songs to the band fully formed as they are in demo form. It’s difficult to look harshly on his decision to move on despite what seemed like him abandoning his bandmates. It’s strange to think that Weller has been a solo performer for almost three times as many years as he was in The Jam when us oldies from the punk generation almost to a man, define him by these albums.
The much maligned This Is The Modern World album has had a rough deal over the years (as has Give’Em Enough Rope, but that’s for another day!) but I always thought it was a better album than it’s given credit for. Sure, it’s gestation was difficult and the band scrapped the first attempt entirely; however, who can argue with the title track, London Girl and the immense Here Comes The Weekend? And the cover of In The Midnight Hour? C’mon, I defy you not to want to dance to that!
There’s a couple of stuffy, half-realised tracks, but that’s forgivable when one remembers that it was written in the six months after In The City. I’ll tell you what, though. Most bands today would give their right arm to have a debut as good as The Modern World, never mind as a “difficult” second album.
As a little aside, I had to learn Modern World (the song) to play at a pal’s 50th birthday. It’s not difficult to play chord-wise, but Jaysus, there are about fifteen different parts in it, all linked by different, but similar bridges. It just shows you, even at this early stage, The Jam’s sophisticated songs were well beyond ramalama punk tunes and Ramones lifts unlike many of their contemporaries.
All Mod Cons is the motherlode. This was Weller’s masterpiece as far as I’m concerned. Not a bad song on it and every one a stone cold classic. Here again the clarity of sound adds a discreet new dimension to them. The Beatles/Revolver influence is never far away and the neo-psych of In The Crowd is hugely enhanced by the remastering. Weller’s backwards guitar and Foxton’s thumping bass sound simply irresistible and the acoustic English Rose is as haunting as it was back then. Billy Hunt has one of the simplest and best guitar solos ever, executed in about seven seconds. That’s how to do it. No messing about.
By the time of Setting Sons’ release, The Jam could do no wrong. Singles charting every time, albums straight to the top. There’s a real pathos setting in to the songwriting around about now, and with the benefit of hindsight, it’s maybe apparent that the cracks are starting to appear. Of course, it’s a part-concept album about the futility of war and understandably would be short on laughs, but something like Thick As Thieves or Private Hell perhaps show the Weller psyche staring to show the strain.
Sound Affects and The Gift are arguably best served here by the remastering; by this time Weller (and to a lesser extent, Foxtons) songwriting was becoming ever more sophisticated and they were clearly anxious to move on quickly. Ghosts (from The Gift) is a quite stunning piece of writing and to hear it so unadorned here is a real treat. Interestingly, Buckler’s contribution to this song is little more than hi-hats keeping time and one can imagine Weller’s patience running out with his bandmate. In the earlier material, Buckler’s drumming is perfect; all amphetamine blur and thunderous fills. Never the most fluid of drummers, the later material, where Weller is looking for more of a groove and swing, seems to be beyond Buckler. The transition to the Style Council material is really becoming apparent, with songs such as Town Called Malice and Precious heralding that bands inception.
That’s Entertainment is almost ghostly here, with Weller’s reverse guitar and Buckler’s maracas sitting neatly atop the lo-fi acoustic guitars. The lyric reads like a Pinter play at times and Weller surely never sounded more maudlin.
There are two albums added to the original releases that gather up the B-sides and non-album singles of The Jam’s astonishing run of releases. These 27 songs would again grace most bands of today’s set. They’re that good. Their version of The Who’s So Sad About Us is without doubt one of the best songs consigned to a B-side in the history of music.
Strange Town. When You’re Young. I don’t even need to describe what a rush of teenage angst and fury both of those are.
I really enjoyed revisiting these songs. There are 95 tracks and barely a duffer (or the same song twice) amongst them.
Whether it’s worth you shelling out the dough for? I’m not sure. These have all been out before and there’s no unreleased or rare tracks on the set. For that reason, I’m not scoring it out of ten as we usually do on the site.
The music? Unbeatable. The remastering? It certainly added a vista of clarity and sharpness that I hadn’t heard before. It definitely improved the sound quality for me and there were little parts to the songs I’d never noticed before. As mentioned, there’s not the stench of desperate cash-in (Clash-in?) of some other releases and the package itself has been lovingly put together and is a thing of great beauty.
What would Weller think? Perhaps this, from The Modern World …
“Don’t have to explain myself to you, I don’t give two fucks about your review”.
All words by Joe Whyte. More writing by Joe on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.