Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Style Council







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The albums covered are:-

Café Blue (1984)
Our Favourite Shop (1985)
The Cost Of Loving (1987)
Confessions Of A Pop Group (1988)
Modernism: A New Decade (1989)
and Here's Some That Got Away

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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CAFÉ BLEU (1984)

1. Mick's Blessings
2. The Whole Point Of No Return
3. Me Ship Came In
4. Blue Café
5. The Paris Match
6. My Ever Changing Moods
7. Dropping Bombs On The White House
8. A Gospel
9. The Strength Of Your Nature
10. You're The Best Thing
11. Here's One That Got Away
12. Headstart For Happiness
13. Council Meetin'            

Formed in early 1983 by ex-Jam frontman Paul Weller and keyboardist Mick TalbotThe Style Council were a strange phenomenon. Often derided by the cognoscenti, in many ways they were an experiment gone wrong. In many other ways, they were an excellent group that produced some great albums with a soulful, often adventurous sound and some biting, socially conscious lyrics.
                     
As far away from The Jam as it was possible to get, really. This album was a brave mixture of soul stylings, contemporary jazz and a bit of rap influence thrown in. Some of the tracks are jazzy, piano-driven instrumentals like Me Ship Came In or smoky jazz like Blue Café. Others feature guest artists like Tracey Thorn on the lovely, late night jazz of The Paris Match and various guest instrumentalists on the rap-influenced A Gospel and The Strength Of Your Nature.

  

The hit single My Ever Changing Moods is stripped down to a soulful piano-only version, while the other hit, You're The Best Thing features a different mix, with saxophone to the fore. Headstart For Happiness is a jaunty, upbeat poppy number which again shows this material is just nothing like anything The Jam put out, and all released just a few short months later. The sea change was really quite remarkable.

Where the Style Council had a problem was in the image they carefully created, swanning around in Paris in gaberdines, pictured sitting at cafes pretending to read “Le Monde” and drinking cappuccino, wearing dark glasses and so on. After Paul Weller’s gruff “man of the people/no bull” persona in The Jam, it all seemed very pretentious, contrived and just a little silly. It garnered a lot of ridicule, which was a shame, because the music was good. A brave experiment that deserved more credit.

  

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OUR FAVOURITE SHOP (1985)

1. Homebreakers
2. All Gone Away
3. Come To Milton Keynes
4. Internationalists
5. A Stone's Throw Away
6. The Stand up Comic's Instructions
7. The Boy Who Cried Wolf
8. A Man Of Great Promise
9. Down In The Seine
10. The Lodgers
11. Luck
12. With Everything To Lose
13. Our Favourite Shop
14. Walls Come Tumbling Down
15. Shout To The Top                   
             
This album was The Style Council’s high point. A collection of mainly highly politicised songs that see the jazzy piano instrumentals and smoky club torch songs of Café Bleu jettisoned in favour of a more full band, rocky sound, slightly more akin to how The Jam may have progressed had they stayed together, certainly in the case of the rousing Walls Come Tumbling Down and the non-album single Shout To The Top.

Kicking off with the pertinent Homebreakers, the tone is set - 1985’s Britain under Thatcherism is a miserable place to be. They were not wrong. All Gone Away, despite its tuneful lilting acoustic backing, and Come To Milton Keynes continue in the same vein, then Internationalists raises the tempo, musically, with some poppy funk, although the cynical, world-weary message as the same. A Stone's Throw Away is another cautionary, sad tale about Police and government brutality. Weller’s voice is so soulful but pointed on all this material.

  

The Stand Up Comic's Instructions is a monologue delivered by Lenny Henry, as a bigoted Northern working mens’ club “concert secretary”. The depressing thing is, in 1985, dinosaurs like this still roamed the earth.

A Man Of Great Promise (to deceased poet Adrian Henri), the Boy Who Cried Wolf and Down In The Seine are all a bit of a throwback to the previous album. The Lodgers is another Style Council anti-Thatcher classic as is With Everything To Lose (later re-worked as Have You Ever Had It Blue).

The unique appeal of this album is that it message is so strong, so powerful, such a protest yet the music is uniformly so tuneful, often so light, so melodious. Weller has never sung better, either. Nobody else ever made political protest so musically enjoyable.

Although the rain macs and Gitanes had gone now, Weller and Talbot were now dressed in pure white denims for promotional photos, covered in make-up and looking all homoerotic. A terrible time, politically, but an even worse time for fashion.

  

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THE COST OF LOVING (1987)

1. It Didn't Matter
2. Right To Go
3. Heavens Above
4. Fairy Tales
5. Angel
6. Walking The Night
7. Waiting
8. The Cost Of Loving                
  
After the high point that was the politically-motivated Our Favourite Shop from 1985, two years later the Style Council were back with a shorter album of more polished, professional-sounding soul/funk/pop, tapping into what was now starting to be called “RnB” - laid back, synth-drummy late night US-influenced radio soul.

The album was much less instant and “in your face” than its predecessor, tending to wash over you somewhat. The two singles from the album, the soulful Waiting and the even more relaxing and very appealing It Didn't Matter are probably the high spots. The stark and pointed A Woman's Song and also Fairy Tales show that Weller had not quite lost his political edge, but overall, it seemed as if he wanted to drop the political opinionating and just chill out, man. The plain orange cover seemed to exemplify that feeling too. Bright, one dimensional but just maybe lacking a little in individual personality?

Right To Go featured rap/hip-hop, for the first time since A Gospel on 1983’s debut album, from guests The Dynamic Three. However, it does, unfortunately, sound dreadfully naive all these years later.

  

Angel is another of the album’s high points though, a beautiful soul ballad. Heavens AboveThe Cost Of Loving and Walking The Night are all eminently listenable tracks - good hooks, nice soul feel and Weller’s voice as good as it could get.

The sound on this remastered release is good, as warm and full as it can be given that The Style Council's output was always rather trebly and while this album is often cited as being the start of The Style Council’s decline (I guess commercially that was certainly true), personally I have always found it to be an enjoyable listen every now and again. The fact that in 2018 I still dig it out has to be a compliment. It is, however, very much of its time in many ways.

 

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CONFESSIONS OF A POP GROUP (1988)

1. It's A Very Deep Sea
2. The Story Of Someone's Shoe
3. Changing Of The Guard
4. The Little Boy In A Castle/A Dove Flew Down From The Elephant
5. The Gardener Of Eden
6. Life At A Top People's Health Farm
7. Why I Went Missing
8. How She Threw It All Away
9. Iwasadoledadstoyboy
10. Confessions 1, 2 & 3
11. Confessions Of A Pop Group    
              
Released in 1988, for many, this was the death knell for The Style Council - an apparently preposterous, pretentious, indulgent piece of work with a couple of elongated “medley” style tracks where one leads into another. The rambling ten-minute The Gardener Of Eden: A Three Piece Suite and The Little Boy In A Castle/A Dove Flew Down From The Elephant. Just a look at the titles is enough to start one doubting this product. Classical piano (albeit beautiful at times), some lovely strings and occasional impressive vocals but a general feeling of going nowhere in particular. Little Boy, in fact, was just a piano instrumental, why the need for the extended double title? This was a brave experiment, and I have to admit I enjoy it occasionally, and admire Weller for doing it, but even when writing this review, I find myself being a bit confused by it all.

However, despite these clearly “experimental” outings that admittedly meander around without really getting anywhere, there are two absolutely copper-bottomed classic Style Council singles on here in the amusing Life At A Top People's Health Farm and the soulful pop of How She Threw It All Away. The album is immaculately played and performed and the sound quality on this remaster is full and warm, beneath the sometimes over-orchestration on many tracks.

  

There are other highlights too. The album’s piano-driven opener It's A Very Deep Sea is beautiful. There is also another soulful feel in Confessions 1, 2 & 3. The acapella harmonies of The Story Of Someone's Shoe, while impressive, are a bit twee, to be honest, however. Changing Of The Guard is a gently appealing little song, though, Weller duetting well with his wife at the time, Dee C. Lee.

It was clear to see, despite the good points on here, however, that Paul Weller, although clearly wanting to diversify and offer up different sounds and creations, was in the midst of something of a creative quandary. As much of the vacuous feelings of the 1980s were fading away and that decade’s pretentions being cast away as indulgent and vain, similarly, it was probably time to call and end to The Style Council’s brave, but ultimately fruitless journey.

 

You could imagine NME journalists back in 1988 shaking their heads and composing their “poor old Paul Weller” invective after listening to this.

Time for Weller to change direction.


  

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MODERNISM: A NEW DECADE (1989)

1. A New Decade
2. Love Of The World
3. The World Must Come Together
4. Hope (Feelings Gonna Getcha)
5. Can You Still Love Me?
6. That Spiritual Feeling
7. Everybody's On The Run
8. Sure Is Sure
9. Can You Still Love Me?        

Recorded in 1989 but not released until as part of a box set in 1999.
                    
I am afraid to say extended mixes of dance music leave me cold. Yes, it is ok to put on and just leave it on while you do something else (like write a review, I guess!) but I struggle to gain much musical satisfaction from endless keyboard loops and pounding, metronomic drum machines. Love Of The World and the more vocal Can You Love Me? have a vague appeal. I like the intro to That Spiritual Feeling and the whole vibe of the sax-driven track a lot. Indeed, it would be resurrected on one of his first solo releases in 1993. Sure Is Sure is a bit intoxicating at times, I have to admit and it does feature Weller's voice at points in it.

Look, it is all listenable, as such, it just doesn't get my juices flowing much. Sorry to all you late 80s house fans.

  

I admire Paul Weller for having the sheer stubborn belief to put out an album of house music at the time. However, the fact that a few years later, having hit rock bottom, creatively, he began channelling his inner Nick Drake, Traffic and What's Going On-era Marvin Gaye and utterly reinvented himself has to say something.

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HERE'S SOME THAT GOT AWAY

1. Love Pains
2. Party Chambers
3. The Whole Point II
4. Ghosts Of Dachau
5. Sweet Loving Ways
6. A Casual Affair
7. A Woman's Song
8. Mick's Up
9. Waiting On A Connection
10. Night After Night
11. The Piccadilly Trail
12. (When You) Call Me
13. My Very Good Friend
14. April's Fool
15. In Love For The First Time
16. Big Boss Groove
17. Mick's Company
18. Blood Sports
19. Who Will Buy?
20. I Ain't Goin' Under
21. I Am Leaving
22. A Stone's Throw Away 
                            
The rest of the bonus material that didn't appear on albums is dotted around on this excellent compilation album, along with the first single, Speak Like A Child and other excellent singles like Long Hot SummerMoney Go RoundShout To The Top, Promised Land and Wanted.
There is certainly some great bonus material on here - the Northern soul-ish Love Pains; the soft soul of Sweet Loving Ways; the poppy soul of A Casual Affair; the sad beauty of A Woman's Song; the "white funk" of Waiting On A Connection; the soul stylings of Night After Night and The Piccadilly Trail. Track after track is excellent. Many of them date from the time of Our Favourite Shop and possibly were considered not in line with the political message that most of the album's tracks contained. Many of the tracks here show Paul Weller's liking for both contemporary and classic soul and funk.

My Very Good Friend is another pop soul classic, as is the slowed down soul of (When You) Call MeBig Boss Groove is an upbeat funker in the style of Internationalists and I Ain't Goin' Under is a funky bit of protest. Blood Sports is as tragic as the title suggests, as is the haunting Ghosts Of Dachau.

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