Ooh Ooh Got The Gift Of Life
A recent Pub thread about The Magic Numbers found our regular Prog Rocker disparaging The Jam’s Sound Affects, prompting me to respond about how The Jam were never really an albums band and how Paul Weller’s perceived sense of failure with The Gift provoked him to break up the band. But then this last weekend I saw The Gift sitting around – yes, in vinyl form – and played it for the first time in many years. I tried to remain emotionally detached from my involvement, both with the band in the studio and as part of their audience, and I’d like to think I succeeded; as regular readers know, I’m not remotely obsessed with Weller/The Jam (and more) and this was merely a Sunday night soundtrack while getting on with things.
All the same, I was shocked – at how good The Gift still sounds. Sure, the hit singles (‘Town Called Malice,’ ‘Precious,’ ‘5 O’Clock Hero’) are an indelible part of British pop culture, but most other songs have also stood the test of time. ‘Happy Together,’ ‘Running On The Spot,’ ‘Trans-Global Express’ and ‘The Gift’ itself all exude an undeniable confidence, while the affection with which I hold Ted Leo’s cover of ‘Ghosts’ and Liam Gallagher’s interpretation of ‘Carnation’ tells me all I need to know about those songs’ enduring qualities. Even ‘The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong,’ which came in for much stick at the time, sounds appropriately low-key.
In addition, the production, while typically thin on the bottom end, is more complex than prior Jam albums (for the simple reason that there were more instruments), and the performances, including those of the much maligned rhythm setion Foxton and Bucker, are hardly lacking for fire. Weller’s lyrics may not necessarily be at their best (that’s a matter of preference), but they are certainly at their most mature, an ideal balance between the political observations for which he was known, and the likes of ‘Carnation’ and ‘Ghosts,’ which dig deeper into the psyche than he’d previously mustered. True, the front cover is a joke and the whole ten-song saga is over in 33 minutes, but it’s a lean, mean collection of songs – trimmed of fat and fighting fit.
It raises the eternally hypothetical question of where The Jam might have headed had Weller not felt so constrained by the group’s line-up. Could they have further expanded the sound into a more soulful, dance-oriented area – but without the embarrassment that accompanied The Style Council? Or were Foxton and Buckler simply incapable of understanding black music and European culture to the extent that Weller felt it necessary. Did The Jam’s break-up come at the perfect moment, quitting at the top? Or was America there for the taking and further number one singles left begging? We will, of course, never know, but I, for one, have just revised my revisionist history. The Gift is just that.