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The Jam had exploded onto the punk scene in 1977 with their debut album "In The City", and had released 5 studio albums, each one exploring a different musical direction, from the punk of their first two albums "In the City" and "This is a Modern World", the mod infused "All Mod Cons" and Setting Sons", to the New Wave of "Sound Affects". By 1981 Paul Weller was being largely influenced by Northern Soul music and also Michael Jackson's "Off The Wall" album had some input into Weller's creative thinking.
After a very quiet 1981, in which The Jam released only 2 singles, "Funeral Pyre" and "Absolute Beginners"(The latter being the first Jam single that used a horn accompaniment), they released a taster of what was to come; The double A sided single "A Town Called Malice/Precious" became their 3rd UK number one single, it was released in January 1982 and entered the chart at number one where it remained for 3 weeks. March 1982 heralded the release of what would be their final studio album..The Gift.
The Gift was a complete change in direction from their previous guitar laden albums, a horn section had now been added to give the band a funkier sound. Here is a breakdown of each song:
Weller introduces the album with the opening line "And now for those of you watching in black and white, this one is in technicolor". Your ears are treated to an upbeat funk number "Happy Together", which would have probably done well in the charts, had it been released as a single.
From the turbo charged ="Happy Together", we change pace a little, with this haunting number; "Ghosts" is one of my favourite songs by The Jam. The message I got from this song is that instead of going about you're daily existence without speaking up for the things that matter, we should rise up and say how we feel or we could end up leaving this life and wondering why we didn't even try to make a change.
We change tempo again with the disco sounding "Precious", a love song filled with wah wah guitars and horns, definitely a number that will make you want to get up and dance. As already mentioned, it was released as part of the double A sided single with "A Town Called Malice" and reached number one.
Next up is "Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero", a song about the unsung heroes of Thatchers Britain(The people that have a mundane 9-5 existence and never get any thanks for it). This song incidentally was released as a Dutch import backed with a cover of Edwin Starr's "War" and a Weller composition "The Great Depression", and still managed to enter the UK charts at number 8!
"Trans-Global Express" is next, with a backing track that is totally identical to World Column's "So is the Sun", you wonder why they never got any recognition for it. Weller rants about governments and issues a rallying call for everyone to stand up and be counted(Bearly audible amongst the backing track).
Another Political rallying call is up next with "Running on the Spot", the message is clear that no matter how people in power try to knock us down, we should keep pushing and keep pushing until something gets done. The thing I like about this song is that it could have appeared on "Sound Affects", it harks back to a more youthful Jam sound from a couple of years previous.
The Jam wern't known for their instrumentals, as much as Bruce Foxton wasn't known for his song writing skills, with exceptions like "Smithers-Jones" and "News of the World". This brings us to the next number, the Bruce Foxton composed instrumental "Circus", definitely the weakest track on the album by a mile. I'm not a big fan of instrumentals unless they offer me something outstanding and this track is just plain and boring, a definite low point on this fantastic album.
The next track shocked me to the core when I first heard it, it is like no other song by The Jam, the Caribbean flavoured "The Planners Dream Goes Wrong". This is a song about the decaying tower blocks, that were supposed to be the future, "Luxury living" with their "p**s stenched hallways and broken down lifts" sung to an upbeat calypso sound; sounds like a weird mixture but it actually works really well.
After the calypso comes "Carnation"; a melancholic song about the greed, fear and hate that is inside all of us. Paul Weller sings "If you gave me a fresh carnation, I would only crush its tender petals", probably how we would feel if we are in a bad mood. One of the highlights of the album and years later covered by Liam Gallagher and Steve Craddock.
If anyone was to ask any music fan to name a track that would define The Jam, then "A Town Called Malice" would probably be that track. The track starts of with a copy of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas "I'm Ready For Love" baseline that seems to carry the song through to the end with lyrics about a broken Britain. Malice isn't a real town, yet it could be any one of the UK's towns, with working class people having choices to make on whether to cut down on their beer or cut down on buying stuff for their kids. This song for me conjures up images of the old dairy yard that closed down near where I lived, around about the same time this song came out "Rows and rows of disused milk floats stand dying in the dairy yard". This song as previously mentioned was their 3rd number one UK single backed with Precious. To promote the single, the band performed both songs from the double A side on Top of the Pops, making them the first act to do this since The Beatles performed "Day Tripper" and "We Can Work it Out" on the show.
The album ends with a 3 minute number and the title track of the album, "The Gift", an up tempo rocky number to close the album, that keeps you wanting more.
After this album Paul Weller called time on the band during the recording of "The Bitterest Pill (I ever had to Swallow"(a number 2 UK hit) and they released their final swansong "Beat Surrender", which entered the charts at number one and stayed their for two weeks, a sad end to a great band.
The album was The Jam's only album that reached the top of the UK album charts. This album is great for anyone interested in funk with a rocky edge. Worth buying the album just for "Town Called Malice" alone and the bonus is you get a few other good tracks with the exception of "The Circus"(not my cup of tea but might be yours).
1) Happy Together
4) Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero
5) Trans-Global Express
6) Running on the Spot
8) The Planners Dream Goes Wrong
10) Town Called Malice
11) The Gift
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Happy Together
4 Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?
5 Trans-Global Express
6 Running On The Spot
8 The Planner's Dream Goes Wrong
10 Town Called Malice
11 The Gift