The best Jam album ever according to Weller celebrates its 30th.
Lou Thomas 2010-11-11
On Sound Affects’ opener, Pretty Green, Paul Weller barks about one use for his money in a teeth-gnashing staccato: "I’m gonna put it in the juke box". But would Woking’s mod icon ever have guessed songs of his own would cause frantic searching for change three decades later?
Weller reckons The Jam’s fifth album, now celebrating its 30th anniversary, was their best work. It’s easy to hear why. Pretty Green is so good listeners don’t even notice it hasn’t got a chorus, just tense verses and a power-chord pre-chorus that disperses like spilt beer across a bar floor.
Set the House Ablaze is even better than that, a terrifying but terrific look at fascism on the rise in Europe at the dawn of the 80s. Sounds worthy in print, but marry talk of fighting fascists with a dangerous, paranoid guitar scrape and a whistled melody full of menace and the result is utterly thrilling. Bloc Party certainly thought so when they nicked the riff for Helicopter.
Start!, the album’s first single, is an almighty clang of metallic soul – half Wire, half Motown. Weller insisted the label release it as lead single despite the label’s protestations. It went to number one.
There is pathos amid the modish flavours and brilliant Bruce Foxton basslines. Scrape Away is a classic for those desperate to leave it all behind, and Monday – thankfully far less depressing than its namesake – combines the melancholy of Embarrassment-era Madness with Byrds jangle.
There isn’t a bum song on Sound Affects, but a special mention must go to its best. Of the countless songs about working class British life released in the last three decades, it’s strange one so ostensibly slight is so breathtaking. It may just be a list of simple things we’ve all done, seen or heard, with an ironic chorus, acoustic guitars and no drums, but so what? If That’s Entertainment doesn’t move you on some level you deserve to have your speakers burnt in front of you.
On a lengthy bonus disc are 22 tracks of mildly diverting alternate takes, demos, B sides and rarities. Two punchy Beatles covers, And Your Bird Can Sing and Rain, Coral-ish Start! B side Liza Radley and Pop Art Poem are the picks: the latter because it sounds like The Velvet Underground hanging out with Can and Augustus Pablo. It’ll only be Jam or Weller completists who need the bonus disc in their lives, but Sound Affects proper is essential.