In May 1977 at the height of the British punk scene, a dynamic British band broke new ground on Top of The Pops. In The City was the debut single from The Jam, it radiated the energy, aggression and romance felt by the youth during the epoch. 40 years after that initial release and the subsequent album of the same name, their influence on modern music can still be felt. To celebrate their innovative music USM-Polydor have released a five-disc box set featuring the Jams first two albums ( In The City and This Is The Modern World.) Both albums have been re-mastered and include unreleased demos and live recordings.
Their music contains some of the most defining sounds of the era, alongside the Clash and the Sex Pistols, but unlike the rough and ready elements of the other bands, The Jam had a refinement that was lacking from others. They were political and edgy but these guys bore the clean-cut influences of the mods of a decade earlier. They had the spark of The Who, the bluesy riffs of Dr Feelgood, the lyrical sensibilities of the Rolling Stones and even drew on Motown for their harmonies: this was sophisticated stuff for a trio of youngsters barely out of short trousers. Although their career was fairly short-lived, during their five years at the top they achieved 4 number 1s, 6 albums and 40 chart hits and of course birthed the career of the Modfather himself Paul Weller. The lingering sentiments of many of the tracks indicate that not only have our times remained unchanged, but also the same struggles are being faced. This disconnect can be felt on one of Weller's most introspective tracks, Away From The Numbers, when he laments "why is reality so hard?"
The recognisable twang of Weller's Rickenbacker is as distinctive as his vocals and one of The Jams defining qualities. In The City bursts with teen angst, like a glittery adolescent time bomb waiting to go off. You get the feel that if they weren't making music, The Jam would be still be predicting riots nearly 30 years later - yes the same kind of caffeine hyped energy can be felt that far ahead with bands like The Kaiser Chiefs and The Libertines. The Batman theme has been a cover of choice for many bands over the years but in the hands of The Jam it's given a dancehall makeover which could have prompted drunken youths to ask " 'ere love do fancy dancing to this?" Or it could easily have been the underscore for a scuff up after closing time. Whatever the scene, their cover has all the bravado of a superhero and just as much of the energy.
Likewise, This is The Modern world continues their pounding aggression but with more cynicism. In the space of a few months between releases, the boys have become men. London Girl represents this transition with a heightened level of maturity. A cover of Wilson Picket's In The Midnight Hour is a welcome fusion of their own style and influences. While the quirky Don't Tell Them You're Sane continues the introspective disconnect of modern life. Demo-wise it's intriguing to see how the band's ideas have developed from the speedy attacking of the initial ideas to the subtly of the final cuts. In fact, these demos sound more redolent of their boisterous live versions.
Another cover, but a live one this time - Sweet Soul Music - shows the bands enthusiasm up close. Hot and sweaty and vibrant the band clearly transfer their sound from studio to stage. With the adrenaline cranked up their punk style comes more to the fore. Art School sounds much more like the Sex Pistols than the comparative sedate offering on the album. It's a fascinating look back at their style and influences. Slow Down not only shows the band going at it hell for leather, with out of tune instruments twanging at the end of a set, it also shows how intense their live shows were.
In 1977 when The Jam exploded onto the scene they touched a nerve in pop culture, one that is still far-reaching and indelible. The band lit a spark in the youth that defined a generation and would go on to be one of the most iconic British bands ever. As reissues go this 1977 box set captures the displaced youthful energy of the time and marks a pivotal point in music history.
Groupie Rating 4/5