“And now for those of you watchingin black and white, this one is in Technicolour…”
All good things must come to an end. “The Gift” was released on 12th March 1982, on 30th October Paul Weller made the announcement that the Jam would split up on the completion of a short tour. Following the release of their final single “Beat Surrender” and that short December 1982 tour, they were gone. The decision to split was solely Weller’s, he said “I wanted to end it to see what else I was capable of, and I'm still sure we stopped at the right time. I'm proud of what we did but I didn't want to dilute it, or for us to get embarrassing by trying to go on forever. We finished at our peak.”.
“The Gift” has its moments, it also has some (to my ears) fairly deep lows. “Precious” is the only Jam track I routinely skip over, just can’t be doing with it. Weller had been listening to different things including Wire, the Gang Of Four and Pigbag, well for “Precious” he just lifted the bassline from Pigbag’s biggest hit (“Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag”) and wrote some words to it. The calypso styled “The Planner’s Dream Gone Wrong” and the instrumental “Circus” are utterly forgettable. Side ones finale “Trans Global Express” is better but at its heart is just a very unsubtle reworking of World Column’s Northern Soul floorshaker “So Is The Sun” (https://youtu.be/Le7B63pA17c?si=RtXfoGflsdMcUpaf).
Other parts of this album are as good as anything they’d ever done. Both sides opening songs, “Happy Together” and “Running On The Spot” (“We’re running on the spot, Always have always will, We’re just the next generation of the emotionally crippled”), are A1 classic Jam. The two slower songs, “Ghosts” and “Carnation”, are stunningly good. And last but not in anyone’s world anything like least there is “Town Called Malice”, a surgical evisceration of the effects of Thatcher-ism on ordinary people, while at the same time being a superb pop song and dance tune. Lyrically it’s astonishing
“Rows and rows of disused milk floats stand dying in the dairy yard
And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts
Hanging out their old love letters, on the line to dry
It's enough to make you stop believing when tears come fast and furious
In a town called malice”
That sense of hopelessness tempered just a few lines later by the positivity of
“Playground kids and creaking swings lost laughter in the breeze
I could go on for hours and I probably will
But I'd sooner put some joy back in to this town called malice”
It gave The Jam their 3rd #1 single, this one debuting on the charts at #1 in February 1982, and you can still drop it in a DJ set in the right venue to this day and have a packed dancefloor singing along, not many political protest songs can get that reaction.
I didn’t see them on that final tour in December 1982, don’t know why and it’s still something I regret. The Jam were special, a pivotal part of my teenage years, I found them at age 14 and they split when I was 19. As I type this I’m listening to “Beat Surrender”. Thanx Paul, but I’m still not sure I’ve ever forgiven you…