Ultimately Sound Affects shows a band that was being pushed by its leader slightly...
Chris Jones 2008-01-18
With six released in five years, each one of the Jam’s albums is a distinct stage on Paul Weller’s journey from callow, Thatcher-supporting yoof to mature writer with more on his mind than just teenage angst and political disatisfaction. This, their fifth effort, often vies for the title of their best; the other candidate of course being 1978's All Mod Cons. But whereas AMC is a heady slice of proto-Britpop, wearing its sensitivity and social comment (and debt to the Kinks) like badges, Sound Affects is a superb amalgam of funk and mid-60s psychedelic rock. All sprinkled with fantastic hooks and tight-as-you-like playing.
This was where Weller began moving towards the Britfunk of his next outfit, The Style Council. Horns began to enter the mix on tracks like Dreamtime while Bruce Foxton's bass on opener Pretty Green was a distinct move away from the bolshy four-four of previous work.
The band had obviously opened their ears to more than just the Who and Ray Davies. There are as many references to post-punk bands like XTC (Music For The Last Couple or Scrape Away could be from that band’s Drums And Wires) and Joy Division as there are to the Beatles’ Revolver-era psychedelia. Start! is Taxman in all but name, but done so wonderfully as to negate any gripes, while That’s Entertainment’s backwards guitars fairly reek of incense. But underneath was the tough, cynical heart of Weller's jaded young man. Like some earlier version of Pete Doherty with actual talent, this was Blake's Albion viewed through the grey of a council estate window.
Weller’s lyrics were also more human and approachable. Several times he makes self-deprecating reference to his 'star' status (Boy About Town) and also the acceptance of the healing power of love (But I'm Different Now). Only on Set The House Ablaze (which sounds like an out take from their previous album, Setting Sons) does he sound like he’s treading water.
Ultimately Sound Affects shows a band that was being pushed by its leader slightly beyond their level of ability. Buckler and Foxton's propulsive acumen was already falling behind Weller’s ambitions. After the full-on soul revival of The Gift he was to abandon the three-piece for pastures new. But on this album you get to hear the Jam at their absolute peak.