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2023 Albums Thing 190 - The Jam “Sound Affects”

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The Jam’s sound moved on a lot between “Setting Sons” and Sound Affects”. Weller had been listening to different music than he normally would, including the angular Post Punk of the Gang Of Four and Wire, along with the mutant Funk of bands like Pigbag and it was beginning to show in his writing. Paul Weller has said that “Sound Affects” is The Jam’s best album.

Can we first talk about the artwork ? It’s a pastiche of the BBC’s “Sound Effects” series of albums Volumes 1-8 (https://www.discogs.com/label/521396-BBC-Sound-Effects). I have, for a long time, thought I should acquire all 8 as they would make a striking 3x3 wall display with “Sound Affects” sitting right in the middle…one day…

We went to see them on the tour to promote “Sound Affects”, at Birmingham Bingley Hall on 11th November 1980 (supported by The Pirahnas trivia fans). My memory tells me they opened the show with this albums first song, “Pretty Green”, to us something we’d not heard before. The crowd all joined in shouting “OI!” on Rick Bucklers snare beats in the intro but then as  Weller began singing something I’d never heard before happened, people around me were singing along “I've got a pocket full of pretty green, I'm going to put it in the fruit machine, I'm going to put it in the jukebox, It's going to play all the records in the hit parade”. This is November 11th, the album wasn’t to be released until the 28th…this is a new song, how could they know the words ? Maybe they’re friends of the band, but there’s so many people singing they can’t all be their mates. That was the day that I realised some people didn’t just go to the gigs in their own town, they travelled around and followed the band. It was a bit mind-blowing at the time. 

“Pretty Green” is a strong start and that start is backed up by “Monday” with Weller once again not afraid to write a love song “But a sunshine girl like you, It's worth going through, I will never be embarrassed about love again”. “But I’m Different Now” covers much the same subject (“But I’m different now and I’m glad they you’re my girl”) but in a more classic Jam style. “Set The House Ablaze” does just that, an absolute barnstormer, driven by some exceptional drumming by Rick Buckler (the evidence of his book points to him being one of the dullest men alive but what a drummer !) with Weller expressing his disappointment in a friend who has bought into right-wing lies “Yeah the leather belt looks manly, The black boots butch, But oh what a bars-tard to get off”.

And then we reach one of the reasons I would disagree with Weller about this being The Jam’s best album, there are a couple of stinkers on here and, controversially perhaps, I think “Start!” is one of them. I remember first hearing it on the radio and thinking “hmmm that’s different”. Then I started reading about the similarities to a Beatles song I’d never heard called “Taxman”. Remember kids this was 1980, you couldn’t just go online and listen to anything at anytime, I had to find someone I knew who had a copy of “Revolver” and ask to have a listen. Now I know Paul Weller has never been averse to “tributing” or perhaps “quoting” other people’s songs within his own (some may call it plagiarism but let’s not go there). “It’s Too Bad” from “All Mod Cons” features a guitar line that “echoes” the “Yeah, yeah, yeah”s from The Beatles “She Loves You” and on The Jam’s next album he does it twice with Pigbag and World Column (did he always have difficulty with writing new songs ?) but, c’mon Paul, “Start!” lifts the entire bass line from “Taxman” and as a self confessed Beatle-nut you can’t use the excuse that you didn’t know it (unlike a few years later when you claimed never to have heard ELO’s “10538 Overture” after lifting most of it and calling it “The Changingman” !). Upshot is I don’t really like “Start!”.

Thankfully Weller ends Side 1 with not just one of the best songs he ever wrote but one of the greatest songs written by anybody…anywhere…ever. I do really like “That’s Entertainment” which, to paraphrase a Country Music idiom, is a perfect example of four chords and the truth. Weller has said it took as long to write it as it took to play it, if so, that was the most productive 3 minutes and 34 seconds any musician has ever spent writing. As with “…Tubestation…” Weller is writing in that 22" black and white TV “Play For Today” style (that’s not a criticism BTW, that’s the way I “see” his writing whereas with, for instance, Bruce Springsteen I “see” it in a more cinematic, Panavision in technicolour style) and we’ve all been in many of the situations he shows us. We’ve (almost) all cuddled a warm girl and smelt the stale perfume, we’ve all read the graffiti while sitting on slashed bus seats, all felt the meh of a boring Wednesday. It’s a song for us all that paints a picture of how things were then but even though it wasn’t all sweetness and light Weller plucks the beauty out of ordinary, everyday things. Most writers would be happy with one that good, Weller’s genius is that it’s not even the only one on this album.

“Dreamtime” starts Side 2 off all psychedelic like and then bursts into a classic Jam song that became a big live favourite. After that comes a song that, for me, is right up there with Paul Weller’s very best. Take three men, a factory worker, a shop keeper and a factory owner and write about their hopes, dreams and fears but never set the story outside of the corner shop. Doesn’t sound too promising huh ? But “Man In The Corner Shop” is one of Weller and The Jam’s greatest moments and one that seems to me to be somewhat overlooked. The shopkeeper knows it’s a hard life but he likes being his own boss. The factory worker is jealous of the shop keeper being his own boss and the factory owner is jealous of the shopkeeper while the shop keeper is jealous of the factory owner having others to do the work for him. But they all meet up in church together to be assured that “God created all men equal”, so that’s OK then. It’s a magnificent song and one that seemingly doesn’t get talked about nearly enough.

The succeeding “Music For The Last Couple” is an enormous let down after that, an almost instrumental that I’d have felt cheated by had it been a B-side. “Boy About Town” is the Mod in Weller coming back to the surface and “Scrape Away” takes you out on angular, scratchy guitar riffs and streams of consciousness, rambling  lyrics “Your twisted cynicism makes me feel sick, Your open disgust for 'idealistic naive', You've given up hope you're jaded and ill, The trouble is your thoughts a catching disease”.

Despite one or two reservations of mine “Sound Affects” IS a great album, how could a record featuring “That’s Entertainment” and “Man In The Corner Shop” be regarded as anything but ?

Man In The Corner Shop - https://youtu.be/mgreXSO3PqY?si=V5nS_IKUDsvV0BhR

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