Saturday, December 5, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE JAM - FIRE AND SKILL
Somehow The Jam never really rose above the pack in North America, while contemporaries such as The Clash and Elvis Costello were selling healthy quantities, even getting radio hits. Yet at home, they were the top band in England for a couple of years. Perhaps if they had stayed together a little longer than 1982, the public here would have caught up to them.
The group sits in a hard-to-describe middle ground between punk, New Wave, Mod and soul, with lots of hits and a good deal of misses along the way as well. But you could always count on their energy, and The Jam were known for tremendous live shows. This box has an interesting concept; it features a live set from the six different years they were recording, 1977 - 1982.
All guts and swagger when they first came to the public's attention, the group actually had four years of build-up as social club and pub regulars, doing the cover versions. When punk opened up doors for them, they just turned up the intensity and speed. The first live set here, at punk headquarters the 100 Club in London, sees them padding out the setlist with soul favourites Back In My Arms Again, Heat Wave and In The Midnight Hour, their growing interest in Mod with The Who's So Sad About Us, and Larry Williams via The Beatles cut, Slow Down. Running out of tunes for the enthusiastic crowd, they had to do a final encore of early hit In The City a second time.
A year later, a tighter band with more originals can be heard, and this is one for the big fans, with some rarer cuts indeed getting an airing, including Aunties and Uncles, and as a bonus, a very polished soundcheck version of News of the World. Disc three from 1979 saw them now a major deal, and armed with big hits that pushing the crowds into a frenzy, including the social commentary of Down In The Tube Station At Midnight. As the title suggests, maybe they were just too English with such topics, mentioning take-away curry and Wormwood Scrubs.
Disc Four saw them introducing their best album, Sound Affects, which featured some more melancholy and calmer songs including Monday, mixed in with the usual explosive cuts Start! and But I'm Different Now. For overall strength, this is the best of the shows here, The Jam at their peak. 1981's show goes from hit to hit, now that they had so many, introducing new funky songs such as Town Called Malice and The Gift.
Disc Six is one of their last-ever shows, from a closing run at the Wembley Arena in front of a huge crowd. For the final tour, the group had brought in horns, backing singers and a keyboard player, none of which really add to the songs. They were best as a power trio, bringing the energy to the songs themselves, and like the whole way the group finished, this has a feeling of disappointment to it. They were no longer a people's group, they were Paul Weller's, and he chose to pull the plug despite being outvoted a million to one.
That's water under the bridge now, and The Jam have never lost their status in Great Britain, hence this live box. It's another of these classy small packages, a four-by-six box with the six discs, some post cards, and a very strong hard-bound book with an essay that explains the times and recordings. Maybe it will convince a few more North Americans to hop on board.