THE JAM All Mod Cons (Polydor)
“All Mod Cons”, originally released in 1978, is The Jam’s third album, and unarguably their first great one. The shocks are shorter and sharper (compare the 80-second title track, all world-weary trepidation of exploitation, with the kids’ utopian visions of “In The City”) and the worldview more nuanced. The first two tracks “All Mod Cons” and “To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have A Nice Time)” go from rags to riches to rags again (not for the last time via the “Taxman” bassline), like many of these songs hiding disillusionment and disappointment behind facades of immaculate pop classicism. “Mr. Clean” and “Billy Hunt” are splenetic character studies, the latter excised from the US version of the album in favour of b-side “The Butterfly Collector”, both so vicious they sound like Paul Weller’s throttling back the expletives. A cover of The Kinks’ “David Watts” only emphasises how Weller’s own songwriting has become all but the measure of his influences; the fact that they felt able to release it as a single reflects the band’s confidence. In the spirit of the times – see also The Clash’s “Train In Vain” – soppy soft song “English Rose” is unlisted on the cover, but its influence is legion, Noel Gallagher having copped a feel of its sun-dappled pastoral psychedelia for every introspective, acoustic Oasis b-side (well, “Talk Tonight” at least). “In The Crowd” addresses “Quadraphenia”-style mob/mod conformity issues, with lashings of circa-1966 Beatles backwards guitar and light-fingered Kinks lift that, naggingly, I can’t track down the source of. “It’s Too Bad” and “Fly” are redolent of ”The Who Sell Out”-era Pete Townshend at his most reflective, but the double-feature reportage of “’A’ Bomb In Wardour Street” and “Down At The Tube Station At Midnight” seems shockingly hard-hitting for what, at the time, were hit singles. “’A’ Bomb…” is all random, unfocussed rage (“A Philistine nation of degradation”, indeed), “…Tube Station…” pours streamlined anger into a plot, and is all the more powerful for it. It’s also instructive to hear the longer album version after decades of acclimatisation to the single edit: with its extra tube train sound effects (or “Sound Affects”, perhaps) and that awesome coda in which the guitars almost seem to be weeping at the sorry state of affairs, it’s almost Floydian in its lavishness.
My heart sank on discovering that this new vinyl reissue of “All Mod Cons” was part of Universal’s mostly lamentable “Back To Black” series, my early misgivings not helped by a cover that looked like a mediocre scan of an original. Happily, though, it sounds really good, with even folk who have access to an original issue making complimentary noises about it.