* Prices may differ from that shown
The year was 1977, Punk had already exploded onto the scene the previous year and the leading punk bands had already been snapped up by the big record labels ; Sex Pistols - EMI, A & M and then Virgin, The Clash - CBS, The Buzzcocks & The Stranglers - United Artists and Ian Dury and The Damned - Stiff Records. Polydor had already missed out on these bands and made haste in signing The Jam for £6000, a miserable sum considering Sex Pistols had been signed for £40,000 and The Clash £100,000 with their respective record companies. The Jam were formed in Woking in 1972 and by the time of recording this album their line up had changed a few times and now consisted of Paul Weller(guitar/vocals), Bruce Foxton(bass/vocals) and Rick Buckler(percussion). They already had a good repertoire of songs under their belt, had honed their live act and had built up quite a following on the London circuit; This album was basically their live act put down in the studio, 32.02 of pure adrenhaline
The album opens with 4 chords, then Weller shouting "1,2,3,4" to introduce us to the first number. "Art School" is a high tempo song that seems to be over before it has begun, clocking in at 2.02. The song is about the youth of the day and how they should have a say in how things are being run, basically "wake up all those in power, we are the future!". What a fantastic way to kick start the album off, and this track stands as a taster of what was to come in the next 11 tracks.
Up next "I've Changed My Address", a track about being too young to be tied down, going to great lengths to leave his girlfriend, such as; moving house, sleeping rough etc. Weller snarls through the lyric "Couldn't see me settling down with a mortgage and a kid". A bit cheesy for The Jam but it was their first album after all so we will let this track slide.
A cover of "Slow Down" up next, probably more influence by The Beatles singing it rather than the original, although this track has a more punkier sound.
"I Got By In Time", a song dismissing old friendships and girlfriends, saying how something happens to put an end to these friendships despite of how good they were but we get by. This is one of my favourite songs from the album, a bit beatley in parts, especially at the end of the part where Weller sings "Please tell me if my philosophy's wrong, I've got to know the truth, I don't mean to offend anyone but, you know it's something that I dooo, oh oh oh".
After the dismissal of ruined friendships we have a song about escaping from the crowd, breaking out and making something of your life. "Away From The Numbers" is quite a melodic song in parts, it also makes a reappearance on "All Mod Cons" as part of the fade out on the song "In The Crowd". I have always thought this song was a great tune, a bit different to the other faster numbers on this album.
Homage is paid to another of Wellers influences; The Who, with this cover of "Batman Theme". The Who also did a cover of this on their "Ready Steady Who" EP, the cover version that appears here is also given a more punkier edge.
If you were lucky enough to have the LP of this album rather than the CD, the albums title track and the bands first single (UK singles chart number 40) opens up side two. "In The City" is a call for people to listen to the young generations ideas, instead of instantly dismissing them, "In the city there's a thousand things I want to say to you, but whenever I approach you, you make me look a fool" . The riff is one of the most instantly recognisable riffs by fans of The Jam and also sounds very familiar(if you listen to the Sex Pistols "Holidays in the Sun", part of the lyric is also discreetly pinched from The Who track of the same name. This is a fantastic track, although I prefer the slightly faster live version from the "Dig The New Breed" album.
"Sounds From The Street" is up next a melodic tune in parts(strange for a band who were deemed as part of the punk explosion). Weller has a dig at some of his critics in this track "I know I come from Woking, and you say I'm a fraud, but my heart is in the city where it belongs), this is due to critics having a go at him for singing about London, even though he isn't from there. There are some nice harmonies from Foxton on this track(Yes harmonies from a punk band).
A tribute to Northern Soul allnighters is up next with "Non-Stop Dancing" and probably the only song during the punk era to reference James Brown as a good thing. Not the strongest song on the album in my opinion, but considering of what I have heard of their earlier demos, it was definitely stronger than any of them.
"Time For Truth" is a pop at the government and especially the prime minister James Callaghan. There is also references made to the police force and especially a news story from 1976 about a man called Liddle Towers(check out the wikipedia page on him if you want to know more about the story), who died after a spell in police custody; "While killers roam the streets in numbers dressed in blue", and "Bring forward those six pigs, we wanna see them swinging so high". This is a great track and lyrically probably one of the strongest on the album in my opinion.
The B side of "In The City" and the rocky "Takin' My Love" is the penultimate song on the album. An uptempo number and judging by the poor quality of the lyrics, probably one of Wellers earlier compositions, definitely not one of their better tracks.
Lastly we have a song that is still relevant today; "Bricks & Mortar". This track is all about the dismissal of making people homeless to build a car park or a shopping centre "Why do we have to hate our past, by pulling down houses and build car parks". The lyric goes on to ask the question "Who has the right to make that choice? A man who's house has cost 40 grand". This has got a nice tune to it and it's a shame it is an often forgotten track.
1) Art School (Weller)
2) I've Changed My Address (Weller)
3) Slow Down (Williams)
4) I Got By In Time (Weller)
5) Away From The Numbers (Weller)
6) Batman Theme (Hefti)
7) In The City (Weller)
8) Sounds From The Street (Weller)
9) Non-Stop Dancing (Weller)
10) Time For Truth (Weller)
11) Takin' My Love (Weller)
12) Bricks & Mortar (Weller)
This album you're either gonna love or hate, whilst in my opinion it isn't of the same caliber as their later albums, it is an essential album to listen to if you're planning to become or are already a fan of The Jam. I might be a bit biased when saying this but I don't think The Jam put out a single bad album, they are all musically different; "In The City" & "This is a Modern World" - The Punk chapter, "All Mod Cons" and "Setting Sons" - The Mod chapter and "Sound Affects" and "The Gift" - The New Wave chapter, to listen to all The Jams material except their first two albums would be like starting to read a book from chapter three. Whilst writing this review I revisited the album and it still sounds as fresh and raw as it did when I first listened to it.
There are few bands in British music history as highly regarded as The Jam, with the band being regarded as being one of Punk's premier acts, almost single-handedly responsible for saving Mod culture and touted as the band who laid the foundations for Britpop, it's safe to say that the band have proven fairly influential over the years, and are one of the most quintessentially British of acts, something which cost them big when it came to trying to crack America.
Formed by school friends Rick Buckler(drums), Bruce Foxton(bass), Paul Weller(guitar/vocals) and Steve Brookes(guitar) in the mid 1970s, Brookes left the band shortly after the group started, and the band played various pubs, with set lists based around R&B covers from the 1960s, and a healthy dose of idolisation of The Who, The Kinks and The Small Faces would be necessary to take in the band.
However, it wasn't until the advent of Punk in 1977, spearheaded by The Sex Pistols, that The Jam would get their break. Helped out by The Clash for publicity, The Jam even scored a support slot on one of The Clash's tours before an argument over pay that lead to bad blood between the two acts, and even ended up on the Polydor records contract that was created for Joe Strummer and company before they jumped ship last minute to CBS.
2 months into their Polydor contract, the band released their debut single, In The City, which would prove to be the title track for their album which followed on 2 months later. Recorded in 11 days, In The City is regarded by many as one of Punk's classic albums, and just one of 1977's many fantastic albums. Up until a few years back, my only exposure to The Jam had been in the form of their more famous singles and 2 compilations, the disappointing Beat Surrender and the slightly better Snap!, but I decided that this had to change, a decision which, luckily, coincided with the reduction of all of the group's 6 records, in their 1997 reissued CD format, dropping to £5.99 in price. Out of all of the group's albums, In The City was perhaps the one I was looking forward to the most. My favourite work by both The Clash and The Stranglers came in their early days, and the 2 songs I recognised from In The City's track listing were two I liked, in fact in the case of the title track loved, so more so than any other of the band's albums, I had expectations that would be tough to meet.
Naturally, given that it was the album I went into with most expectation, it also proved to be the most disappointing album for me. Not to say that it is the worst, far from it in fact, however it didn't even come close to meeting my expectations, and all it, and upon subsequent listens, all of the group's albums, did was really make me wish someone would release a thoroughly good 'Best of' compilation of the band's work.
You see, In The City only really boasts 3songs that stand out, ironically enough, 2 of these are the songs I recognised. The title track is one of them, with it's biting attack on life in the city, and people's refusal to accept that "the kids know where it's at". Indeed, The Jam were second only to The Clash in terms of politically tinged lyrics about life in Britain, and essentially all of the songs on the album have lyrics of this flavour, (Weller later admitted that The Jam's early lyrics were "basically ripping off what the Clash were singing"), but In The City stands out amongst these, if not just for the fact the lyrics and their delivery contains more venom, but for the superior musical aspects of the song.
From Weller's spiky opening riff that opens the song, followed by Foxton's bouncy bassline before Buckler's drums, and in turn the song proper, kick in and Weller begins his vocal tirade. The song contains all the hallmarks of a Jam classic, Buckler's drums that make you want to do that thing where you nod your head and twitch your left shoulder, lyrics you want to sing along to and a dilemma over whether you want to play air-guitar or air-bass. In The City is undisputedly the best track on the record, and one of the band's classics, and one of Punk's highlights. The fast pace and angry delivery of the vocals from Weller make this a stalwart of Punk compilations, and for good reason.
The other song I recognised is easily the most bizarre, a cover of the Batman Theme, as heard in the Adam West TV show. It's as ridiculously catchy as it was on the show, and Foxton's bass is fantastic. It's really more of a cool oddity than a proper good song though.
The next best thing to a classic on the album is Away From The Numbers, a more ponderous and melancholy number that works thanks to the nice backing vocals and the fact it stands out on the record for it's slower and slightly more chilled tempo. I wouldn't call it a classic, but it is certainly one of the more interesting tracks on the album.
You see, In The City consists of 12 tracks, 3 of them I've looked at above, and the remaining 9 being, essentially, diluted versions of the title track. I wouldn't go as far as calling any track on the album bad, but the rest of the tracks are very guilty of sounding alike and rather generic. I mean, you can spot brilliant lyrics and fantastic musical touches across all of the songs, but that's the problem, 1 song will have a good line, another have a good bassline, another fantastic drumming, but in general none of the other tracks see everything gel together as with In The City. I mean, I can quite easily listen to any song from the album, and in all cases take some enjoyment from them, but the problem is that they seem like rather mediocre songs that have a good factor in their defence, instead of through-and-through good songs.
So, while In The City is a song that fans of the band will want, although they probably already own it, and doesn't contain any bad tracks, it is rather guilty of being underwhelming, if still rather enjoyable, and it's hard not to put the album's problems down to there being a lot of pressure upon the band to deliver their debut on time.
So, while In the City was worth the money I paid for it, it's far from a classic, and while I do recommend it, especially to those of you whom are interested by the prospect of a sort of merging of Punk and 60s Mod Culture, but it certainly isn't the band's best album, and while it is consistently decent, and never falls below that level, it certainly could have done with a few more standout tracks, and doesn't stack up to 1977's finest very favourably at all.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Art School
2 I've Changed My Address
3 Slow Down
4 I Got By In Time
5 Away From The Numbers
6 Batman Theme
7 In The City
8 Sounds From The Street
9 Non-Stop Dancing
10 Time For Truth
11 Takin My Love
12 Bricks And Morta