To be someone must be a wonderful thing....
Released on 3 November 1978
Recorded at RAK Studios, London
Running time 38:19
The previous album to this one, This Is The Modern World, saw main singer/songwriter Paul Weller supposedly suffer from "writer's block". I a not sure about that. The album sounded pretty good to me. Nevertheless, he has admitted himself that he was struggling for creativity before it all suddenly came together with, this, The Jam's finest album.
The punk pretensions and 60s r'n'b stylings of the first album and, to a lesser extent, the next one, were gone by now. The songs became increasingly sophisticated, intelligently structured and lyrically surprisingly observant and mature for some in Weller who had only recently turned twenty-one. The band still was a three-piece, Weller on lead guitar, Bruce Foxton on bass and Rick Buckler on drums and it had never sounded as tight or as accomplished as here.
1. All Mod Cons
2. To Be Someone
3. Mr. Clean
4. David Watts
5. English Rose
6. In The Crowd
7. Billy Hunt
8. It's Too Bad
10. The Place I Love
11. "A" Bomb In Wardour Street
12. Down In The Tube Station At Midnight
Rick Buckler's thumping drum intro leads into this short, sharp shock of an opening All Mod Cons that saw Weller railing, albeit briefly, against music industry greed. The track segues neatly into the next track, To Be Someone - a cynical song from Weller about the pitfalls and immorality of the "fame game" and music stardom. "Didn't we have a nice time" he wryly observes, amongst all the cocaine and "guitar-shaped pools". Great bass from Bruce Foxton on this one.
In Mr Clean Weller spits out invective against a seemingly uncaring middle class professional type, the like of which Weller would have seen regularly while growing up in stockbroker belt Woking. "I hate you, and your wife, and if I get the chance, I'll fuck up your life", he aggressively states. The upbeat, singalong hit single, David Watts, is next - a rousing, lads-together fist-pumping cover of The Kinks' 60s album track. Funnily enough, its lyrics sound as if they could have been written for The Jam, all that class difference stuff that is the cornerstone of this album in many ways. David Watts, of course, is the very opposite of Billy Hunt.
English Rose was the "surprise" unannounced track from the original album. A tender, acoustic guitar-based love song. Maybe it was not mentioned on the track list because Weller was genuinely embarrassed to include a love song on the album. A soppy love song? On a "punk" album? Are they punks or what? There's an establishment to rail at. In fact, in the song Monday on 1980s Sound Affects, he claims "I will never be embarrassed about love again". Maybe he genuinely was, as he looked down and spat on the ground between his teeth after dragging on his fag, as "lads" did.
In The Crowd is a somewhat rambling song where Weller expresses his feelings when swept along in a crowd of people, his disconnection, his alienation, maybe even traces of self-loathing. Quite a mature song for one so young but musically it is a little bit uninspiring and never really gets going.
Billy Hunt is a song about a working class lad who works on a building site and dreams of something better. It sounds a little like a cast off from the previous album, slightly punky in its guitar attack and pace. Early 60s Beatles influence to the fore in It's Too Bad, a She Loves You -style mid-pace love song. A nice beat and some appealing guitar and drums. "I could say I'm sorry, but that's not the point is it?" shows Weller's John Lennon-style cynicism at times when it came to relationships. Lennon turned this way by Beatles For Sale, Weller had pretty much always appeared like that, even in the early days, London Girl and I Got By In Time spring to mind.
The beguiling Fly is one of the album's most intricate and adventurous songs. Weller a bit "stream of consciousness" with lyrics about being in the "demi-monde", all a bit sixth-form philosophy, to be honest, but certainly a brave effort, both lyrically and musically. "Dreams it seems are weightless as sand" is an adventurous lyric for a tewnty-one year old. It betrayed Weller's sensitive, even romantic, side once again, however, although he was happy to acknowledge this one.
It was continued in The Place I Love, a slightly whimsical, dreamy song inspired by the Surrey countryside that influenced many of Paul Weller's songs. Again, a notable Beatles influence in the music but finding room for Weller to stick with his contemporary anger and say that he is "making a stand against the world". Here, however, he does so very melodiously. "The place I love is a million miles from here, not within a yard of the trendy do's" and "only animals around me" showed Weller rejecting the city and its nightlife that he had previously championed. Was this the first of the "pastoral" songs that would so dominate much of his later solo career? I believe it was.
The Place I Love fades out and segues into the short, sharp shock of "A" Bomb In Wardour Street - a Honky Tonk Women style cowbell intro leads into this staccato punky guitar riff-driven tale of a violent incident in a gig venue, with mentions of London's Vortex punk venue and, of course, Wardour Street itself. This, appropriately, is the punkiest song on the album.
The album's A Day In The Life, Down In The Tube Station At Midnight. A nearly five minute masterpiece of violent, urban imagery dealing with a man being mugged in the bleak underground setting of one of London's tube stations. Underpinned by Bruce Foxton's magnificent bass, it is musically excellent, but, as with so much of this album, it was the lyrics that took centre stage. Yes, it is a musically impressive album, but it is the words to the songs that everyone still remembers.
Below is a clip of The Jam doing Billy Hunt on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978.