Rewind to March 1982 and the band’s final studio LP “The Gift”. It was a marked change of style from previous albums, with Paul Weller & Co going for a more soulful sound with Pete Wilson taking over from Vic Coppersmith-Heaven on production. Weller was once quoted as saying that he wanted this to be the best Jam LP ever, stretching his own abilities as well as those of Bruce Foxton & Rick Buckler. To boost the sound, Steve Nichol & Keith Thomas were brought in on brass (they would also join the trio for the “Transglobal Unity Express” tour). So how do the songs stack up?
We start with “Happy Together” after a reminder that “now for those watching in black and white, this one’s in Technicolor”. Foxton comes in with one of his trademark bass runs while Weller’s vocal performance here (and on the album as a whole) is probably the best he’s done up to that time. It’s probably a good idea here to note that the overall sound on the LP has a more immediate feel than before, complemented by Pete Wilson’s production work.
“Ghosts” slows down the tempo with minimal guitar work and a simple rimshot pattern courtesy of Buckler, before moving onto funk territory with “Precious”. (with just a touch of Pigbag’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag” thrown in for good measure) “Just Who Is The 5 O’Clock Hero” revisits “Mr Clean” from the “All Mod Cons” LP, but this time looks at the working class point of view. “Trans-Global Express takes it’s inspiration from the Northern Soul funk hit "So Is The Sun" by World Column. The only problem here is that the vocals are so far back in the mix that you could barely make them out, so a lot of the power of this militant call-to-arms is lost.
Flip over to side 2 and “Running On The Spot” which is vintage Jam, but seems too polished, while “Circus” (another one of Foxton’s compositions) probably wouldn’t feel out of place on one of those sporting retrospective programmes which usually crop up on ITV 4. “The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong” shows how the restrictions of the basic format were becoming apparent - the group trying their hands at calypso (with some steel drums thrown in), but not quite succeeding. “Carnation” reflects the dark nature we all seem to have. “Town Called Malice” (complete with Motown-esque rhythm track) is a pretty fair assessment of working class life at the time dealing with issues such as the everyday struggle of making ends meet and the lack of facilities in smaller towns. It all seems pessimistic, but “The Gift” defiantly shows that there is hope - we’ve just “Got to keep moving”
It’s a bit of a mixed album if I were to be honest. While some of the songs like “Malice” and “Running On The Spot” work reasonably well, especially in their own right (Weller has recently been playing them during his solo gigs) others like “Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong” appear to fail to get their message across. Nevertheless, on this LP, one would be inclined to cherry-pick the best bits.
Anyway, by this time, Weller was keen to explore new styles, but one of the problems he encountered was that the rhythm section of Foxton and Buckler was so easily recognisable, that even if he had written a song in a completely different style, it would still be recognised as a typical Jam song. This was probably one of the factors that led to the band splitting at the end of 1982, but not without going out on a high note when “Beat Surrender” gave the trio their fourth number one (and the third to enter at the top). And it would have been the Christmas number one if it wasn’t for Renee & Renato.
So that’s it. Six studio albums in six years. From the punk explosion of 1977, through the mod revival of 1979 and through to 1982, which not only saw Weller & his cohorts develop musically, but also as people. One door closed, but a whole new world waiting to be explored. Well, it was great while it lasted…