That difficult second album, or so the music press would have you believe. “This Is The Modern World” is admittedly no timeless classic but it gets a very bad rap when spoken about these days and it’s not nearly as weak as some would tell you.
The fact that Bruce Foxton gets to write two songs on here, that the lyrics for “In The Street Today” were pretty much a verbatim lift from a poem written by Weller’s school friend Dave Waller, that “Tonight at Noon” was hugely influenced by another poem by Liverpool poet Adrian Henri (https://rolandsragbag.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/adrian-henri-tonight-at-noon/) and that the final song is a cover version, means it is probably fair to say that Paul Weller was struggling in the songwriting department. Let’s get those 2 Foxton songs out of the way first, “London Traffic” (it’s literally about there being too many cars in central London “Drive ‘round London in a car, Don’t really wanna go far” yeuuch !) and “Don’t Tell Them You’re Sane” are as poor as anything The Jam ever released (there wasn’t much but there were a couple of later album tracks and a few hidden away on B-sides, usually written by Bruce). The cover of “In The Midnight Hour” is something I’m sure they’d been playing for years at those working men’s club gigs and when they needed something to round the album out cos they didn’t have enough songs of their own it’s easy for them to bang this one to tape…Stick it on a B-side, fair enough, but it shouldn’t be here.
But there is light among the darkness. Title song “The Modern World” is the perfect bridge between “In The City” and what is to come, with Weller taking a swipe at that “older generation of gnarly, jealous (?) journo’s” we talked about yesterday with the lyrical jab “Don’t have to explain myself to you,I don’t give two fucks about your review”. That Adrian Henri influenced song “Tonight At Noon” alongside “Life From A Window” are both great songs and actually damn good goes at 60’s psychedelia, but these were the angry days of ’77, no-one was thinking about psychedelia. However both point toward later songs like “Tales From the Riverbank”, “The Butterfly Collector” and “Dreamtime”.
“Standards” is very of it’s time concerned with the faceless “them” that control everything; “London Girl” is a tale of a provincial kid enticed by the bright lights of the big city and getting swallowed up by it; “The Combine” looks at some of the same things Weller was concerned with in “Away from the Numbers”, individuality and not getting lost “in the crowd” (“Look, life is very intricate, when you're in the crowd, Life becomes the movies, And everyone has a role”).
Some of the best is saved toward the end. “I Need You (For Someone)” is one that hits home to me. If you know me at all just read the lyrics and you’ll know why (“I need you keep me straight, When the world don't seem so great, And it’s hard enough you know”). “Here Comes The Weekend” is fantastic, a huge favourite of mine. It’s a classic teenage/Mod anthem “From Monday morning I work for Friday nights” and “Here comes the weekend, I get to see the girls, Long live the weekend, the weekend is here”…file it next to The Easybeats “Friday On My Mind' and Eddie Cochran’s “Weekend”.
The cover art I always thought was significant too. The picture of the three of them under an elevated road (The Westway ?) ticks the urban wasteland/Punk box. But Weller has had those Modernist/Pop Art arrows stuck on to his sweater with electrical tape, Rick and Bruce are in button down shirts and there’s a Union flag button badge. The Mod(ern) in Weller is beginning to bubble to the surface more openly and will burst into the open on their next album. And let’s not forget those brilliant label and inner sleeve illustrations by artist Conny Jude, very Egon Schiele in style I’ve come to realise (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egon_Schiele).
“This Is The Modern World” was released just 6 months after “In The City”. Given their touring commitments and pressure being applied by Polydor for another record it’s probably not a surprise that (still 19 year old) Paul Weller was struggling to write sufficient and suitable songs. It’s something that carried on into the preparations for their 3rd album. “This Is The Modern World” has its faults, undoubtedly, but it’s not the forgettable difficult second album that certain people have painted it as over the years.
Here Comes The Weekend - https://youtu.be/4EpHlP-yjlM?si=7NiV8VvC7mI-Bdxr