The Jam - Setting Sons - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Jam - Setting Sons

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7 Release Date:2014-11-17

First question I always ask myself when these supercalifragilistic deluxe editions are reissued is “Who is the audience?” Does the casual Jam fan need to drop 100 quid on a three-and-a-half-hour, three-CD/one-DVD box with a jawdropping 60 tracks and a 70-page hard-cover book jampacked (sorry!) with contemporary memorabilia (including tour brochure and fan club magazine repros), music mag clippings, interviews, and a bunch of album sleeve session photos?

Well, what are the, ahem, extras? You get four contemporary singles (the weak, forgettable ‘Strange Town’; a punchier, shorter ‘Eton Rifles’; the greatly-improved ‘Smithers-Jones’ (minus Buckler’s maudlin string orchestration) that should’ve been used on the album like it was in the US; Weller’s finest b-side, the unforgettably vivid ‘Butterfly Collector’ (mysteriously included on the US version of All Mod Cons); and one of the greatest singles of all time, ‘Going Underground’ backed by ‘Dreams of Children’), a disc full of demos and/or alternate versions of almost every track on the album (essential for trainspotters and musicologists who want to trace the album’s development from thought to expression, although four of these were previously released on Extras and the Direction, Reaction, Creation box), a previously released (from the BBC boxset) John Peel session from October ’79, and the complete Saturday December 15 1979 gig from the Brighton Centre that previously yielded ‘Strange Town’ on the Live Jam collection. The DVD includes five promo videos, half-a-dozen Top of The Pops performances and two tracks from BBC’s Something Else programme. If you’re a vinyl junkie, you can go for the plain brown wrapper, two-CD 'deluxe' edition which drops the DVD and live disk and, instead, opts for the limited-edition two-LP vinyl version of the Brighton concert. Then you can just watch the videos on YouTube!

So, worth it? If you’ve only heard of the Jam via Weller’s later solo career or Style Council misstep (or the fighting Gallaghers’ modfather worhip), you can probably skip this second-tier, transitional album that sits slightly below All Mod Cons and Sound Affects in the Jam's discographical hierarchy. You certainly don’t need multiple versions of spotty material. Aside from the jingle-jangle crunch of the heartbreakingly nostalgic ‘Thick as Thieves’ which presages Sound Affects’ cornerstone ‘That’s Entertainment’ (still one of Weller’s finest moments); Prime Minister Cameron’s favourite song, the fist-pumping, piss-take  ‘Eton Rifles’; bassist Bruce Foxton’s finest hour, the Saki-styled, gutwrenching twist of ‘Smithers-Jones’; and the rousing lads’ anthem ‘Saturday’s Kids’, you probably won’t play a lot of this a second time anyway (and in the case of the utterly disposable ‘Heatwave’ cover, you’ll be hard-pressed to get through once without retching).

Like Graham Parker and Elvis Costello, Weller would quench his Motown-worshipping jones to greater effect on subsequent releases. Those highlights are all available on The Jam Story two-CD greatest hits package. I’d suggest you start your introduction to the Weller oeuvre with the two-CD deluxe repackagings of the aforementioned essential albums, grab the greatest hits package, and call it a day.

But if, like me, you saw Weller as a punkier Pete Townshend (and a better songwriter – think of this as his [punk] rock opera), you’ve been a Weller acolyte ever since you first heard those gloriously explosive early singles ‘In the City’ and ‘Modern World’, and you accept that The Jam were the greatest band to come out of post-punk Britain, who were always at their best belting it out in amphetamine-fueled, sweaty stage presentations, then yes, you need the live album (soundboard-quality, with almost the entire album plus selected singles and highlights from All Mod Cons). It’s also convenient to have the (sometimes surprisingly different, albeit occasionally dodgier quality) demos (some Weller solo, others with the band), alternate versions, Peel Sessions and non-LP singles and b-sides under one roof. Completists also take note: as far as I can tell, this is the premier release of the demo for ‘Simon’, recorded by Weller on January 9 1979 during the session that yielded the ‘Strange Town’/‘Butterfly Collector’ single.

And as for that eye-watering ticket price… Well, just chalk it up as a Christmas present from your rich uncle Bob!

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