Until they announced their break-up 30 years ago this month, The Jam gave musical hope to a generation of British youth, but Bruce Foxton brings back memories of the band.
New album by Bruce Foxton keeps the legacy of The Jam alive
Back in the Room
Bass Tone Records
The long road that marks the course of Paul Weller's illustrious recording career stretches from Sonik Kicks, his 11th solo album released in March, all the way back to In the City (1977), the debut album by The Jam, the British three-piece band who emerged as punk began to land its mid-1970s punches. From then until now, Weller, a master of reinvention, has made a habit of changing direction at the very moment his audience is beginning to settle down and enjoy the show.
A decade ago, Weller dumped Brendan Lynch - his long-term production partner, who had performed sterling work on the artist's first five successful solo albums, including Wild Wood (1993) and Heavy Soul (1997) - in favour of working with Simon Dine. The change of tack was only partially successful: Illumination (2002), the album this collaboration produced, contained at least one bright spot, the gorgeous brass-infused sound of It's Written In the Stars, but actually ushered in a dark spell for Weller, who suffered a period of writer's block after its release. It would take him three years to fully break this slump, when As Is Now (2005) marked a return to form.
Weller began his solo career in 1992. His self-titled first album was a patchy, occasionally brilliant affair. If nothing else, the album's standout track, Into Tomorrow, silenced those who had watched The Style Council, Weller's post-Jam fusion of jazz, cappuccino-society, expensively tailored suits and socialism - even that description barely does justice to the band's creative ambition - stumble and fall at the end of the 1980s.
But it was Weller's announcement on October 30, 1982, that he was to leave The Jam (to form The Style Council) that still represents the most stunning volte-face of his ever-changing career.
At that time, the UK singles charts were awash with novelty acts pushing the lightest of throwaway pop. Indeed, after The Jam hit the number one spot with Town Called Malice in February 1982, they were unseated three weeks later by Tight Fit, a trio fronted by a muscle-bound male model wearing a loin cloth. Later in the same year the band's valedictory EP, Beat Surrender, was knocked off the top of the charts by Renée and Renato, a duo of equally dubious merit.
Amid all this nonsense, The Jam stood as a beacon of musical hope: an energetic and honest voice in a sonic landscape almost devoid of substance and rigour.
Weller's songs mixed a loud and angry guitar sound with fierce lyrical screeds on power, wealth and injustice. Bruce Foxton (bass) and Rick Buckler (drums) added the beef to the band's sound and together the trio gave hope to a generation of frustrated British youth.
If their debut album In the City (1977) and, to a lesser extent, its rush-released follow-up, This is the Modern World (1977), were both straight out of the new wave - how ancient that term now seems - then All Mod Cons (1978) marked a clear shift of gear. The taut, atmospheric narrative style evident on Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, the album's closing track, singled Weller out as his generation's master chronicler.
Even better was to follow. Setting Sons (1979), the band's fourth album, refined Weller's view of the clash of classes with The Eton Rifles and Saturday's Kids, while Foxton's songwriting skills were given an airing on the string-laden Smithers-Jones. Their fifth long-player, Sound Affects (1980), arrived the following year. It was an equally confident statement delivered over 11 cleverly crafted tracks.
As album sales mounted, the band made sustained assaults on the singles chart, grabbing their first UK number one in March 1980 with Going Underground, a song that was recently introduced to a new generation at London 2012's opening ceremony.
But the band's relentless schedule began to take its toll. On the eve of the release of their sixth album, The Gift (1982), rumours circulated that Weller might quit. In the end he waited until October to publicly announce his intentions.
"I feel we've achieved enough," he told a BBC film crew on the day the split was confirmed. "I think we have done all we can do as the three of us and I think it is a good time to finish it.
"I don't want it to go on for the next 20 years … and become nothing, mean nothing and end up like all the rest of the groups. I want everything I've done in the last five or six years to count for something."
While Weller swiftly moved on, his bandmates found it harder to do so. Buckler floated from band to band and later spent time playing in a couple of groups with Foxton. He now also maintains TheJamFan.net, an impressive online resource for those who still pine for the old days.
Foxton released Touch Sensitive (1983) with The Jam's break-up still raw, but whatever momentum he had quickly stalled and he too switched from act to act before arriving at From the Jam, arguably one of the most authentic tribute acts ever to have taken to the stage.
Initially a trio comprised of Foxton, Buckler and Russell Hastings - who offers a pretty decent soundalike of Weller's vocal style - Buckler left in 2009 to be replaced by Mark Brzezicki, formerly Big Country's drummer.
From the Jam are, perhaps predictably, back on the road this year to mark the 35th anniversary of In the City's release. More surprisingly, Foxton has also released his second solo album, the poignantly titled Back in the Room.
Setting aside any thoughts about whether this is the longest-ever gap between studio albums - The Eagles only took 28 years to follow The Long Run (1979) with Long Road Out of Eden (2007) - it is worth noting that this is not really a solo effort at all.
Instead, From the Jam's Brzezicki and Hastings ably assist, together with Ray Davies from The Kinks and Weller himself, who makes a significant contribution to three of the album's tracks, including Number Six, a stunning collaboration between two friends reunited.
Listening to Back in the Room, it does not require a huge leap of faith to imagine this might be how The Jam would sound now if the band had mellowed into middle age.
Hastings's vocals, particularly those on Don't Waste My Time and Drifting Dreams, are so reminiscent of Weller that one could easily slip this album on at a dinner party - the band would probably perish at the thought of such a stifling, middle-class image - and wait to see how many guests enquire as to whether this was the Modfather's new release.
A wonderful throwback, Back in the Room is an unexpected surprise, an album that merits and rewards repetitive play. It's grown-up and nostalgic, referential and faithful to its creator's storied roots and while it may not push into new territories, it plays the existing boundaries very nicely.
Would The Jam be great innovators now? We'll never know. Weller called time before anyone could accuse the band of going soft or selling out. He thought "it was the right thing to do" in 1982 and has not expressed any change of heart since.
As the years passed, the six-album legacy the band left behind has occasionally felt uncomfortably anachronistic, but sitting down and playing any of The Jam's albums today is to reacquaint oneself with their exuberant sound and powerful voice. And all these years later, the band does still mean something and does still feel relevant, just as Weller always believed they would.
Foxton's first solo effort in three decades provides a high-quality adjunct to that listening experience and offers a reminder that The Jam were always about more than just one changing man.
Nick March is the editor of The Review.