Now that Paul Weller is an official ‘elder statesman’, as confirmed by his imminent Brit award for Outstanding Services To Popular Music, it’s easy to forget just the impact he, together with Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler had on the music scene back in the late ’70s.
The Sex Pistols may have grabbed all the headlines, The Clash may have had the coolest image, but The Jam had the songs. They were a truly great singles band, a fact that Snap! underlines by gathering together all of the band’s singles (and some B-sides) and presenting them in chronological order.
This is the first time that the original version of Snap has been available on CD (a previous version, Compact Snap, was released missing several key tracks), and gives us an opportunity to assess just what was so vital about those early Weller songs. The chronological order shows exactly how The Jam developed – from the early punky sound of In The City to the more soulful sound of later tracks such as Precious and Beat Surrender.
The first disc covers the first two years of the band’s career, and contains some of the finest examples of guitar rock you’re ever likely to hear. In The City sounds as angry as hell, The Modern World sees Weller taking a swipe at music journalists (“I don’t give a damn about your review” as the rather more polite version included here puts it), while the cover of The Kinks‘ David Watts somehow manages to surpass the original.
Yet as the disc progresses, more depth becomes added – English Rose is a gorgeous ballad which Nick Drake would be proud of, while Mr Clean demonstrates just how well Foxton and Buckler played off Weller as the band became increasingly musically mature.
The highlight of the first disc has to be Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, which confirmed Weller as one of the great lyricists of his generation. A breathtakingly articulate tale of a beating by skinheads, Weller effortlessly worked lines like “they smelt of pubs, and Wormword Scrubs, and too many right wing meetings” into one of the great melodies of the decade.
The second disc continues at a similar quality and also demonstrates Weller’s growing political awareness. Eton Rifles, Weller’s take on class warfare, still sounds as exhilarating as ever, and Going Underground remains one of the greatest songs ever written. The opening chords still have the power to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, while Weller’s lyrical gifts reached a whole new level: “You choose your leaders and place your trust/As their lies wash you down and their promises rust, you’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns”. It could have been written yesterday.
There’s several other genuine classics here, such as the wonderful That’s Entertainment, the blistering Funeral Pyre and Town Called Malice. The latter had the balls to steal the introduction wholesale from You Can’t Hurry Love, and demonstrated Weller’s growing obsession with soul music, an interest he was to continue to develop once The Jam had split. Needless to say, it’s also lyrically brilliant: a bleak picture of Thatcher’s Britain which effortlessly tosses in lines such as “a hundred lonely housewives clutching milk bottles to their hearts”.
Although the third disc here, a four-track live recording at Wembley, is pretty superfluous, this is no way detracts from the quality of the music here. Without The Jam, there’d be no Oasis, no Libertines and certainly no Arctic Monkeys. They are one of the most important British bands who ever existed, and everybody who even has the slightest interest in music should own this record.