Album: The Gift – The Jam
Review: Uncut, 19 November 2012
Author: John Lewis
The Gift remains a mysteriously unloved part of The Jam canon. For many Jam loyalists it’s a record that’s tainted by Paul Weller’s decision to split the band at the height of their popularity, the headstone to a premature burial.
It’s also a record that, for many, strays a little too far out of The Jam’s comfort zone. While the introductory chimes of the opening track “Happy Together” recall the fractured post-punk of Sound Affects, we’re quickly into the Motown beats, the wah-wah guitars, the big horn sections: the birth of what sneerier commentators later dubbed “soulcialism”.
Lyrically, The Gift does not have the cohesiveness of the two Jam LPs generally regarded as classics – All Mod Cons and Sound Affects – but it certainly has at least as many great songs as either of them. There’s no arguing with the singles “Town Called Malice” (effectively “You Can’t Hurry Love” reimagined by Ken Loach) or “Precious” (hypnotically itchy punk-funk, with a nod to Beggar & Co), but, for all Weller’s professed “anti-rock” agenda of this period, there is plenty here to please any element of The Jam’s fanbase. You want Ray Davies-style kitchen-sink realism? Try the militant vaudevillian turn “Just Who Is The 5 O’Clock Hero”. You want a stunningly poetic ballad with heart-wrenching chord changes? Try “Carnation” (“I am the greed and fear/and every ounce of hate in you”). You want haunting and graceful post-punk? Listen to “Ghosts”, with its elegant horns, fluid bassline and uplifting lyric (“there’s more inside you that you won’t show”).
The first CD contains all 11 LP tracks, along with a further 10 singles, B-sides or covers from this period which didn’t make it onto the album. Weller has always upheld the uniqueness of the flipside (“I always felt the shackles were off,” he says. “You can experiment a bit”), and all of the supplementary tracks on CD1 share that same spirit of adventure, creating a secondary album that’s almost as good as the primary one. Even the covers, which were approached as enthusiastic recreations of the band’s new favourite songs, add a twist to the originals. “Move On Up” replaces Curtis Mayfield’s sweet-voiced earnestness with punky urgency; The Chi-Lites’ “Stoned Out Of My Mind” benefits from Rick Buckler’s heavily syncopated, Afro-Cuban rhythm track.
As well as a riotous live CD, and an excellent DVD of promos and Top Of The Pops appearances, there’s a CD that comprises demos of most of the album tracks and B-sides. It includes early versions of some contemporary sides not included on CD1, such as “Tales From The Riverbank” (here titled “We’ve Only Started”), “Absolute Beginners” (titled “Skirt”), and a Northern soul-style re-reading of the Small Faces “Get Yourself Together”. All of them are multi-tracked solely by Weller on guitars, bass, piano, keyboards and even drums. Unfashionable though it might be to point this kind of thing out, Weller really is an extraordinarily accomplished musician; even his drumming has a certain wonky, Stevie Wonder-ish flair. Some of the demos are virtually identical to the finished versions, only without the horns: a couple (“The Planner’s Dream…”, “Shopping”) sound better. One gets the impression that three or four Wellers might have made a great stadium rock band.
The Jam’s studio versions of “A Solid Bond In Your Heart” (separate mixes of which have previously appeared on The Sound Of The Jam and Direction Reaction Creation) are notably absent from CD1 of this package, although Weller’s drumless original demo does appear on CD2, with a piano-led arrangement that’s almost identical to the version later recorded by The Style Council. There are certainly premonitions of The Style Council all over The Gift, be it the heavy-duty funk workout of “Precious”, the militant call-to-arms of “‘Trans-Global Express’”, or the insistent Northern soul drumbeats on at least half the tracks. And, with veteran Trinidadian percussionist Russ Henderson playing steelpan, “The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong” is an early example of the outsourcing philosophy that Weller and Mick Talbot would later adopt (the song also shares the same lyrical territory as “Come To Milton Keynes”).
In fact it’s the 10 extra tracks on CD1 that seem to prefigure The Style Council’s revolving door policy. Most of the singles of this period are dominated by hired hands, not least the backing vocals of Jennie McKeown from The Belle Stars (on “The Bitterest Pill”) or future Respond starlet Tracie (who almost steals the show on “Beat Surrender”). “Bitterest Pill”, “Beat Surrender” and “Malice” are all dominated by Peter Wilson’s piano or organ lines; while “Precious” and the three soul covers are dominated by the horns of Steve Nichol and Keith Thomas. Other tracks point out the limitations of the three-piece. A jazz-waltz like “Shopping”, or the off-kilter “The Great Depression” are the kind of beats that Style Council drummer Steve White would breeze through; likewise you could imagine an early incarnation of the Council transforming “Pity Poor Alfie” into a more limber soul gem. And that maybe explains why The Gift rankles a little for certain Jam loyalists: it’s a reminder that Weller really did need to break up the biggest British band since The Beatles to pursue his musical vision.
The first time around for this festive mini-series back in 2019/20 kicked off with All Mod Cons and I would have finished 2020/21 off with The Gift except for tomorrow being a Saturday and thus set aside for an album from a Scottish singer/band.
The above review is a reminder why Paul Weller, wary of being labelled as one-dimensional, had little option but to kill off The Jam at a time when they were, unarguably, the most popular band in the UK, with the fanbase growing with each album and each tour.
I was gutted when it happened, but as soon as I heard the debut single by The Style Council, I was fully on board with the new direction, albeit it was one that had been well sign-posted. It was a very brave thing to do – he was just 24 years old at the time – and it was an era when he couldn’t have just turned back and asked Foxton and Buckler to get back together again. He was very much all-in.
I liked The Gift at the time, more so in the live setting around the tours in early 82 when the album came out and the farewell shows later that year. Some of its songs perhaps don’t sound so great almost 40 years on, but it has its fair share of classics:-
mp3: The Jam – Happy Together
mp3: The Jam – Town Called Malice
mp3: The Jam – Ghosts
mp3: The Jam – The Gift
8 thoughts on “ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (14/15) : THE GIFT”
The Gift is the difficult album for me in The Jam’s canon. The reviewer remarks on the loss of coherence – when compared with All Mod Cons or Sound Affects – and that’s exactly what the problem was for me. At the time it came out, I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t as good as what had come just before it, but by the time The Bitterest Pill and Beat Surrender came out I got the message. I agree that the tracks were much better live on the Trans Global Express tour – a tour that when it came to NYC was absolutely ecstatic in its performance. I was fully onboard when Speak Like A Child came out in 83 and Pop and Post Punk were opening up to allow Weller and Talbot to explore without worrying that they would be laughed out of the record store.
I liked The Gift, but was about to hop off the Weller train at this stop as he pursued the 82-83 vogue for sweaty faux-funk workouts, or cloying soul with backing-vocal choirs and a Motown fetish (Orange Juice’s Two Hearts Together was one of the worst examples of this genre).
My late teen purist self was amused and appalled by the Style Council pose and found the muzak direction very off-putting. My middle-aged self is hopefully less narrow-minded but I still can’t take the SC seriously.
My favourite Jam album is Setting Sons. Although every album from AMC to The Gift are brilliant. I think Paul Weller had one more brilliant album left in him. The first two SC albums would’ve made one great LP. The singles surrounding the albums release were nothing short of brilliant. The decline came fast for me. I don’t even enjoy Stanley Rd which is meant to be his classic solo LP. To much plodding going on for my liking.
My pre-teenage years were, apart from a side step into some glam-ish domain like The Sweet, Bowie and Sparks, very much into what we labelled as “black” music; soul, funk and reggae until 79-80 brought a (late) awakening with a bunch of post punk-era music styles. So the soul/funk drenched singles at the end of the Jam’s career went down very well with this listener. Actually I still prefer them over Style Council who to me mostly came down just a bit too slick whereas the last couple of Jam singles had a rougher edge.
Still love the 12″ of Long Hot Summer though, the SC peak in my book.
I was psyched to see The Jam on this tour. I liked ‘Gift’ and had never seen them before. But there was no joy onstage. No comeradery. They didn’t phone it in, as the saying goes, but it was clear that the band was done. I liked Style Council for about 20 minutes.
Early SC are fantastic, a great run of singles and some albums songs that stand up too. The Gift is clearly a signpost in many ways and the 4 songs you’ve posted are all top quality, Ghosts especially.
Agree with Paul above about Stanley Road. But I did enjoy the first 2 solo records.
Re-reading the comments. This might be the first time Echorich and I were at the same show and had a different reaction. The Jam came through to NYC’s Palladium and I assume that’s the gig we both saw. I was personally ecstatic to see the band, but it didn’t look to me like they, Weller in particular, were enjoying themselves. I can’t remember any of them addressing the crowd once.
Yup, JTFL, we were at the same show, I was certainly caught up in the newly expanded standing room at the front of the stage and my memories of that gig are certainly influenced by how psyched I was to see them as well as the chaos around me on the floor. I imagine if I wasn’t as caught up in the moment, I may too have experienced more of what you did. It wasn’t the first time I had seen them, that was at the Palladium, from the front balcony just before my birthday in April of 1979. I saw them one other time on the Sound Affects tour at The Ritz.