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My brother being fourteen years older than me, was a big influence on my life musically, he was always forcing me to listen to The Beatles when I was three years old and eventually I happened upon The Jam song 'The Eton Rifles' in his record collection, from that moment I was hooked on them. I was given some advice by a few of my friends about what albums to listen to, there was no internet back then, so things weren't as easily accessible. This was the final album that I bought for my collection of The Jam's studio albums, I had heard so many bad things about it and I was swayed by the opinions of my peers, but I had to make my own mind up....
== Background ==
The Jam had been signed up to Polydor earlier in 1977 and had already released their debut album 'In the City', which was basically their live set. Two singles had been released, 'In the City' and 'All Around the World', their first single scraping the lower regions of the charts, whilst their second fared a lot better, reaching number 13 in the UK singles chart. Things were going well for the Woking based trio of Paul Weller (Guitar/Vocals), Bruce Foxton (Bass/Vocals), & Rick Buckler (Drums).....no one banked on Paul having to write a second album to order.
This is the thing with songwriters, they write a bunch of songs, they play these songs to an audience and hone their stage craft, they possibly get signed by a record company and record their first album, using the songs they had written and played to death. Then a few months later, to keep their popularity alive, the main songwriter, in this case Paul has to come up with a whole bunch of new songs to put on another album, talk about pressure. This is exactly what happened in this case, which is probably why this album has such a rushed feel to it. Paul even passed on songwriting duties to Bruce Foxton on a couple of the tracks, even the bands single release following on from this album was the Foxton penned 'News of the World', had Weller's songwriting dried out after just one album?
== Track By Track ==
=== The Modern World ===
The album opens with the title track and the bands only single to be lifted from the album, although the single has a different edit, replacing an expletive with the word "Damn" which to me doesn't convey Paul's message across as well. The guitar riff is so simplistic, even a novice on the guitar like me can take great glee in playing it. This is Weller taking a snipe at people who put him down, music critics, teachers etc, he's basically saying you said I'd be nothing, now look at me. The single version of this song reached number 36 in the UK Singles Chart, it was backed with Sweet Soul Music, Back in My Arms Again and Bricks & Mortar (Part of, yes just a little snippet of the song) Live at the 100 Club September 1977.
=== London Traffic ===
This is the first of two Bruce Foxton compositions, this just shows exactly where Paul's head was at the time, if Bruce was writing better album worthy material. This is a real up tempo number, it could have been added onto their previous album, but was perhaps not deemed worthy of a place on it, such was the strength of Weller's material. On first listen, I actually thought this was a Paul composition, it doesn't sound dissimilar to anything else he had written up until this point, although seemed a shift in direction from Foxton's 'Carnaby Street' on the B-side of their previous single 'All Around The World'.
=== Standards ===
Around this time Paul had been reading George Orwell's novel '1984'. In this song he revisits some of the themes in the book 'Ignorance is strength, we have God on side, do you know what happened to Winston". It also sounds like he could be speaking on behalf of the Labour government in Britain at the time when he delivers the line "We have the power to control the whole land, you never must question our motives or plans". I can't help thinking that this song sounds relevant to the government we are under now. This is one of the best songs on this album in my opinion, and it also appears in live form on The Jam's 'Dig the New Breed Live' album from 1982.
=== Life From a Window ===
This song is a radical shift from any of Weller's previous composition, it shows a softer side to his lyrics. The song is a bit of escapism, looking out the window at nothing, just staring into space "Just taking in the view", people watching, also there is a nod to London in there too "Standing on the Post Office Tower". The song starts with a little tune up, followed by a count in "1,2,3,4" before a strumming pattern, which leads into the verse. This song is probably the worst on this album, it just seems really cheesy to me, not unlike The Who's 'I am a Farmer' from their 'Odds & Sods' album.
=== The Combine ===
Paul always seemed to have this recurring theme in his songs, about breaking away from the crowd and being an individual, he explored it in 'Away From the Numbers' on 'In The City', 'In The Crowd' on 'All Mod Cons' and also on this song 'The Combine'. The title was taken from Ken Kesey's book 'One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest' and was the character The Chief's explanation for things that try to control people in society, such as religion, prisons, the media, schools etc, Paul just adapted it to fit in with his way of thinking about being an individual and breaking away from the crowd. This song doesn't seem to be about escaping from the crowd, it really just explains what it is like being in the crowd, the crowd dictates what you do, where you go and how you think. Where else are you going to here Ena sharples, war in Rhodesia and page 3 girls in the same verse? Somehow this song just doesn't work for me at all, although I like the lyrical content, I just think the band could have done something much better with it.
=== Don't Tell Them You're Sane ===
This is possibly the worst composition Bruce Foxton released whilst a member of The Jam. The song is based on the 1975 film 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', it could also be based on the book too, but the film is an easier point of reference, plus, this is a book I would imagine Paul to have read around about this time, and I don't think they had the same interests outside of the band. The only saving grace in this track is Paul's psychedelic guitar riff that just seems to carry the song on and prevents it from being totally rubbish. Perhaps if Paul and Bruce combined (excuse the pun) this track and 'The Combine' together, they could have made one really decent track out of both of them.
=== In the Street Today ===
Paul's best friend from school was a chap called Dave Waller, by all accounts that I have read about him, he was a bit of a beatnik type of character, he wrote poetry and Paul would help him out from time to time. This track is a great snapshot of life in Britain at that time and is co-written with Paul and Dave, I think Dave probably wrote the lyric and Paul came up with the musical arrangement, I am not 100% sure though. Sadly Dave Waller had a heroin overdose in 1982 and died, Paul eventually wrote the Style Council song about him called 'Man of Great Promise'.
=== London Girl ===
This is Weller's stab at a character song, ala Ray Davies, the song tells the story of a runaway girl, who escapes to London, and despite living in a slum and being down on her luck, the upside is that she is in London and that's got to be better than living at home wherever that is. I quite like the verse "You're looking tired 'cause it's been three weeks, since you changed your clothes or washed your feet,
but you're learning fast all the time, how to cadge cigarettes and pills", just because of the imagery this conjures up for me. Weller was really honing his craft and this song is an early example of what would happen on The Jam's next album, with character songs such as 'Mr Clean' and 'Down in the Tubestation at Midnight'.
=== I Need You (For Someone) ===
The Beatles & The Who both wrote songs called 'I Need You', I think this was Paul's ode to those two songs. The guitar work does sound quite Beatley, and you add into the mix the "oooooh lalala" harmonies and you have something that sounds like a modern day (for 1977) Beatles track.
=== Here Comes the Weekend ===
A song welcoming in the weekend although with a minor reference to the conflict in Zaire at the time, the song opens with the line "If we tell you that you've got two days to live, then don't complain, 'cos that's one more than you'd get in Zaire". I thought it was going to be a political song when I first heard that line, but then the topic changes completely, Weller sings of getting ready and going out to pick up a girl, and having fun.
=== Tonight at Noon ===
The opening of this track starts off with a little bit of nonsensical rhyme, I have no idea what was going on when this was added to the song, perhaps it was just meant as a joke, although the joke seemed lost on me. The title was lifted from a poem with the same name by Adrian Henri (quite a nice little nonsense poem, http://www.swans.com/library/art6/xxx053.html ). This song once again highlights Paul's softer melancholic side. The track sounds a little bit of a cross between The Beatles and The Beach Boys, with it's harmonies.
=== In the Midnight Hour ===
A shift in pace here as the album ends with a fantastic cover version of Wilson Pickett's 'In the Midnight Hour'. The song kicks off with buckler's drum beats followed by the guitar and bass riffs, I am unsure who is responsible for the harmonica playing in this track. There was talk of The Jam releasing an album of covers, and there has been enough demo's and covers released on various albums they have released, but not a single one containing them all on one album. When I first listened to this album, this was actually my favourite track for a long time.
== Track Listing ==
All songs written by Paul Weller, unless otherwise stated.
1 - The Modern World
2 - London Traffic (Foxton)
3 - Standards
4 - Life From a Window
5 - The Combine
6 - Don't Tell Them You're Sane (Foxton)
7 - In the Street Today (Weller, Waller)
8 - London Girl
9 - I Need You (For Someone)
10 - Here Comes the Weekend
11 - Tonight at Noon
12 - In the Midnight Hour (Cropper, Pickett)
== Price ==
This album is available from amazon.co.uk for £6.44, this includes delivery and also a free MP3 copy of the album for you to download onto your laptop/computer etc.
== Verdict ==
Initially going on the first few listens of this album, I hated it, the only saving grace for me was the cover version of 'In the Midnight Hour' that closed the album. As I am much older now, I can listen to and tolerate all of the songs on here, although it definitely is The Jam's worst album, it is by no means an atrociously poor album. I can only but wonder that had Paul taken time out and not been under pressure to write this album to order, what their follow up album 'All Mod Cons' would have sounded like, perhaps it would have been better, maybe it could have been worse. The fact is, this album is what it is and maybe the band needed to put something not as good out their while they were working on achieving greatness. I don't think Paul was the type of person just to put any old rubbish out though, and I think he was probably shocked when the critics came gunning for this album. If you are a fan of The Jam, then you will have just as many mixed views on it as I have, unless of course, your rose tinted spectacles are firmly glued to your head. I would only really recommend this album to those that have an interest in The Jam and want to add it to their collection, it is a good album, but not their best album and I can't see why a neutral would want to listen to this, to be honest. I will give this album 3 stars, but that is only because I am a fan of the group.
Often regarded as one of the key examples of the 'sophomore slump', This Is The Modern World would be an album I went into with a different mindset than most listeners seem to. While I found In The City, the debut album from Woking's finest, The Jam, to be an entertaining enough little slice of Mod-inspired Punk fun, it was certainly far from the classic many fans made it out to be. Therefore I didn't have particularly high standards for This Is The Modern World to meet.
As was the case with The Stranglers, after the success of their debuted, which the record company didn't see coming, The Jam were quickly ushered into the studio to record a follow up, to cash in on the Punk craze, which the record companies figured would just be a flash in the pan. This meant that there wasn't much time to write songs, and even those that were written couldn't be given the same try-out as the material on the debut. To further complicate matters, the band's guitarist and lead singer/songwriter Paul Weller had the added distraction of a girlfriend, which, while seeming to dilute the anger that made The Jam's best tracks so powerful, also lent a new side to his songwriting, with This Is The Modern World also featuring a ballad or two in addition to the barbed lyrical tales of Britain through the eyes of it's youth.
Released in the immediate aftermath of the band's latest unsuccessful trip to try and crack the US market, This Is The Modern World only hit shelves around 6 months after it's predecessor, and when it did all it received was a critical mauling, and even today, fans regard it as by far the worst Jam album(although naturally, that's still about 10 times better than the worst album from Weller's follow up band, The Style Council), often seeming to ignore the fact that it isn't really all that bad actually...personally I don't think it's any more guilty of inconsistency than the majority of The Jam's albums, and I'm really unsure why it has such a bad rep.
I mean, the album may not be a classic, but it would be foolish to write it off. Some of the band's best tracks are contained within, and as with the debut album, I wouldn't go as far as to call anything on here bad.
In fact, to be honest, I can probably name more tracks that hold appeal to me on This Is The Modern World than I can standouts from In The City. From the opener and would-be title track The Modern World, which is really textbook Jam, Bruce Foxton's pounding bassline teamed with Rick Buckler's drum to form a fantastic rhythm while Weller throws some spiky guitar riffs and his lyrics which when not describing the world as it was, take time out to have a pop at critics, to the closing cover of Wilson Pickett's In The Midnight Hour, This Is The Modern World crams in 10 other tracks, which range from Jam standards like, well, Standards(one of the better examples of this actually, with some nice lyrics which reference Orwell's 1984), London Traffic, In The Street Today, London Girl and Here Comes The Weekend, mixed in with the ballad I Need You(For Someone), the slightly more introspective Life From A Window, the One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest inspired The Combine and Don't Tell Them You're Sane, as well as one of Weller's favourite poems turned into a song in the form of Tonight At Noon.
Out of all of these, my favourites would be the opener and Standards, for epitomising everything that The Jam were famous for being good at, and simply having better hooks and lyrics than their peers on the record, Weller's surprisingly heartfelt ballad I Need You and the cover, which isn't overly big or clever, but it's a fun song, and a good way to end the record.
As I said, I wouldn't call any song on the record bad, but the other songs just aren't that interesting. Here Comes The Weekend would be better had The Clash not already covered the same ground in 48 Hours, and while Life From A Window and Tonight At Noon help showcase a more mellow side to Weller's songwriting, it doesn't mean they are overly memorable songs, because the fact is, they're not. While he was still guilty of writing songs that sounded a bit on the same side, with the 60's Mod with an injection of punk sound comprising most of the band's early CV, but in hindsight, that's because its what Weller was good at writing. Sharp guitars, constantly active basslines and wonderful drumming may get quite repetitive after a while, but when Weller got the songs right, like on the title track and Standards, they are infectious, wonderful songs that almost make you forgive how much of a prat he seems these days.
Bruce Foxton's two songs, London Traffic and Don't Tell Them You're Sane felt the brunt of the album's scorn upon release, and I feel this was a little unfair. I mean, sure he went on to write much better, and the lyrics are pretty bad(in fact, in the case of London Traffic, almost hilariously bad), but to be honest, I wouldn't rate Don't Tell Them You're Sane much differently than I would Weller's The Combine, or even London Girl, I think Foxton was just a bit of an easy target for journalists, given that he didn't quite have the cred and already icon-in-the-making status of Weller, and was unproven as a songwriter. Incidentally, I always kind of liked Foxton's voice. Weller's somewhat well-spoken sounding voice delivering his 'real' lyrics was always effective, and when it takes a turn for the tender on I Need You it displays just how good a singer he is, but Foxton's rather monotone voice actually had a little charm to it. Granted this came to the fore moreso on the band's cover of The Kinks' David Watts(which appeared on the next album), but it adds a bit of variety to this album having 2 of his songs here.
Indeed, while I do feel the critics were perhaps a bit harsh upon This Is The Modern World, it is still, for the most part, a rather average record, but I don't feel it's any worse than In The City, nor really all that much of a step-down from it's follow up, the much lauded All Mod Cons. So, I guess 3/5 and a recommended is about fair for the album. It's not a bad record by any stretch of the imagination, it has it's entertaining points, it just simply isn't by any means great, or even very good. Fans of The Jam, Weller, punk and 60s R 'n' B will all find appeal in the record, even if it isn't the band's best work.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Modern World
2 London Traffic
4 Life From A Window
5 The Combine
6 Don't Tell Them You're Sane
7 In The Street Today
8 London Girl
9 I Need You (For Someone)
10 Here Comes The Weekend
11 Tonight At Noon
12 In The Midnight Hou