A YEAR IN MUSIC: THE JAM – The Gift (1982)

Review by: Charly Saenz

Some people have their faith, their religions and Bibles. Some other try to explain their fancy philosophy out there so they feel more alive, and thus make each day count (in Springsteen’s words “At the end of every hard day, people find some reason to believe”). Well, we all do that in fact, sometimes putting those words in reviews. 

But when you’re a kid, those things have little sense, and for me (as for many others) what did have sense was Music. So, The Jam were my religion, my little unknown cult with no other known followers, in a little town in South America, without Internet, some mixtapes borrowed or stolen and a few ragged lyrics books bought in dark places. Only The Who and The Kinks belonged in that same category for me, and I wore all their badges with honor in my handmade T-Shirts (and in my school folders, and in 1982 down here those British flags could get you in trouble, you know).

So, this is not another FLAC/MP3 album you will stream from your cool Tidal account, geezer, be respectful, this is The Jam’s last album, no less. 

To start off the record, “Happy Together” deceptively sounds like we’re on familiar ground, but it’s quite obvious instead that they’re moving in a more soulful direction. Great vocal harmonies, a galloping bass by Foxton. And a suspicious love song.. almost saying goodbye to their fans? “But I’ve got no wish to ever cause you pain/Cause there’s enough in this world of sorrow/I’ve no wish to add some more to it”

“Ghosts” is a minimalistic gem, based on a thunderous bass (really, try this on some speakers at higher volume and they will distort heavily), and some horns slowly growing in the distance, leading another “call to arms” from Weller. But by now, Paul is such a mature man (and he was just 24!!) that he’ll choose to talk about your demons inside, mate. And if there’s a prayer I’ll never forget, this is it: “One day you’ll walk right out of this life/And then you’ll wonder why you didn’t try”. 

In “Precious” you finally see where The Jam (Paul) is going. This music was more into the soul side, danceable, far away from punk and even Beatles influences. So we have those 70s R&B guitars, and horns! And man, do they sound fine. Though at the time, the song was heavily criticized, “Precious” was a great single, but sadly, anticipates that The Jam was not the group that Paul envisioned in his head for his future adventures..

“Just Who Is The 5 O’Clock Hero” is one of those slightly (and unjustly) forgotten singles by The Jam. “Running On The Spot” is another highlight with its psychedelic atmosphere which seems like a leftover from “Sounds Affects” to stress Paul’s social message, managing to merge in with the new sound of the band. “Carnation”, one of Paul Weller’s greatest classics, bears some stylized lyrics to talk those (horrible!) human emotions that are so easy to find in your own mirror. The middle part is gorgeous, acoustic, as is the piano part which always leads the melody. 

Now imagine you’re living a dull life in your little neighborhood, being a housewife who’s missing her teens, or the guy trapped in his office rut. Come listen to The Jam, and they’ll put a gold lining around it to create an anthem about you (us): “Town Called Malice” and probably the greatest song about the simple life in the little town (if you don’t count the magnificent Shangri-La of course).  And those words: “Better stop dreaming of the quiet life/’Cos it’s the one we’ll never know/And quit running for that runaway bus/’Cos rosey days are few/And stop apologizing for the things you’ve never done/’Cos time is short and life is cruel/But it’s up to us to change/This Town Called Malice”

And to wrap things up, the title track, a simple statement for the last song in an album by The Jam; there would be singles after that but the message would somehow remain: Keep moving, and avoid “All the time that gets wasted hating”.

I don’t have much to say about “Trans Global Express” (too long), “Circus” (instrumental filler, mostly, nothing remarkable) and “The Planner Dream Goes Wrong” (a caribbean vibe? Come on!) but the rest is Prime Jam, which is something to say. Add some fantastic singles from the time, and you get a perfect lot. We’re talking about a band with somewhat flawed albums, but hey, that’s the case with many other bands (The Police!) and the best proof is their singles collection (A and B sides!) which goes to show these guys wrote and performed some of the best songs of their time. 

Kudos, Paul, for being one of the few who left the race when you were winning, to start from scratch (taking a big risk, which didn’t always pay off by the way). And remember, you’ve got The Gift Of Life! Don’t waste it! Keep movin’!

Author: tomymostalas


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