For starters, the sound of the album was a far cry from “The Modern World”, with Weller experimenting with guitar overdubs which added to the overall feel without overpowering the music. Foxton was now using a Fender Precision bass as opposed to the Rickenbackers he favoured on the earlier L.P.s, and Rick Buckler’s drums had a more powerful sound to them. As for the songwriting, Weller had begun to take a different approach with some of the new tracks, creating characters, and developing stories for them in song form.
So we kick off with the twin-pronged assault of “All Mod Cons” and “To Be Someone”. The former possibly reflecting the situation faced by young bands trying to make their mark in the music business while the latter warns about the fleetingness of fame (with guitar-shaped pools, and “Reporters at my beck and call”) before the protagonist ends up “out on my arse with the rest of the clowns”. Well, it was good while it lasted.
With “Mr. Clean” the focus moved onto class issues as Weller reflected on the people living on the stockbroker belt travelling to Waterloo station to get to the city, the sort of song Ray Davies would have been proud of - oh, speaking of whom… we get a spirited cover of The Kinks’ “David Watts” next. Featuring Foxton on lead vocal, the song became a firm favourite when the band played it during their live gigs. The pace slows down for “English Rose”, a gentle acoustic ballad finds Weller in reflective mood, before “In The Crowd” concludes side 1 - returning to the battle of trying to fit into the system reflected in “The Combine” a year earlier. This time though, the song starts out in a classic pop form before fading out in a cacophony of power chords and Beatles-inspired backwards guitar effects.
Flip the record over, and we continue by meeting the downtrodden “Billy Hunt”, whose only aim in life was to make sure that “the whole world’s gonna wish it weren’t born”, while constantly running into characters like “the foreman, Bob” who constantly put down Mr. Hunt at every opportunity. The Beatle-esque “It’s Too Bad" follows next, a pleasant enough number where Weller’s and Foxton’s harmonies are spot on, as they are on “The Place I Love”, which probably refers to the sort of retreat we’d all like to go to escape the pressures of modern life. "Fly" starts out as a gentle acoustic ballad interspersed by short electric passages which work well without ruining the overall effect. We’re brought back down to earth though as “’A’ Bomb In Wardour Street” and “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” are unleashed. Both songs reflected the violence occurring in London around this time, the latter telling the story of a man getting beaten up by thugs on the underground. It’s an unsettling end to the album, but with those songs plus the more powerful production provided by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, the band’s fortunes had begun to turn for the better. Would the momentum last into 1979? We’d have to wait until “Setting Sons” to find out….