It makes me wonder....
Released on 12th of May 1984
Well, what a hidden little gem of an album this is. Let's be honest, the songs that Bruce Foxton contributed to The Jam's output were (Smithers-Jones apart) decidedly underwhelming, often not much better than fifth form poetry in the lyrical clumsiness and naivety. This album, released two years after Foxton was left high and dry following Paul Weller's decision to break up The Jam, reveals a considerable improvement in his work. He was an artist still shocked at having the carpet swept from under his feet, so to speak, by Weller's actions, and probably, despite all his success, pretty low on confidence. It does not show on this album, however, which bounces along with an enthusiastic eighties vitality from beginning to end.
The album was not a commercial success, however, in spite of Foxton's reputation, and he went on to join Stiff Little Fingers before returning in 2012 and 2016 with two impressive albums. What those albums did, however, was reproduce The Jam's sound, to an extent, and were also highly influenced by Paul Weller's solo work. They used a Weller-esque vocalist in Russell Hastings. This album does none of those things. Its influences are far more from other bands of the time than The Jam (although there are a few small nods in their direction). It is very much an eighties album, though, and that must be taken into account, but it is still a surprisingly appealing offering, much better than it was ever given credit for. The songs are full of hooks and really endear themselves after a few listens.
2. It Makes Me Wonder
3. This Is The Way
4. My Imagination (S.O.S.)
5. What I'd Give
6. Whatever The Reason
7. You Make Me Laugh
8. Are You Ready To Talk
9. Trying To Forget You
10. Writing's On The Wall
11. 25 Or 6 To 4
12. Sign Of The Times
13. Get Ready
The opener and single, Freak, is a a lively piece of typically eighties, horn-driven funk/rock. It has a few hints of some of the material from The Jam's final album, The Gift but far more from bands like Heaven 17, particularly in the backing vocals and the bass line, which is also very Level 42. It Makes Me Wonder finds Foxton doing one of his observational, concerned songs, lyrically. It sort of works here, and the higher-pitched vocal on the chorus is very catchy. This Is The Way's synth riff really reminds of something else from the period, but I can't remember what. It is a bit Orchestral Manoeuvres meets Ultravox in a way, although the brass section is very Dexy's Midnight Runners. Foxton's vocal is a bit Suggs-influenced.
My Imagination (S.O.S.) is very Heaven 17 with Foxton singing in a haughty, Phil Oakey style. That Level 42 "slap" bass sound is back too on a most ebullient, infectious song. The good thing about this, as I said earlier, was that there was no Jam influence here. One of the album's most impressive numbers was the slow, plaintive What I'd Give. This song is 100% superior to anything Foxton wrote for The Jam.
Whatever The Reason is a poppy song very much in the Human League/OMD/Ultravox style. It is instantly recognisable as being of its time. You Make Me Laugh has lots of echoes of Wham! in its jauntiness and low-to-high pitched vocals. It is actually a really good, summery pop song. The vocals also are similar to those used by Paul Weller in The Style Council.
Some typically eighties, brassy funk rock is to be found on the punchy Are You Ready To Talk. Trying To Forget You has hints of The Beautiful South from a few years later and another Style Council vibe on the backing vocals and the vaguely jazzy, upbeat beat. Writing's On The Wall is a sombre, atmospheric, synthy closer to the original album. The bonus tracks include a rousing, riffy cover of Chicago's 25 Or 6 To 4 which actually is made to sound like a Foxton original. He does it very well, featuring some cracking lead guitar. Sign Of The Times is a pulsating, drum-driven number that should have made it on to the original album. There are some great horns on it too. Get Ready is a vibrant cover of The Temptations song.
This is a highly enjoyable album that I can seriously recommend.