It has always bemused me that ‘The Gift’ is an album not universally highly thought of by many followers of the old school Jam Army, of which there is still a considerable number as we all know.
I remember the distinctly mixed reviews upon its release. Well, that might have been the case elsewhere, but it wasn’t in SE5. I really rated it at the time and still do. Admittedly it may not be the best album that they released, with ‘All Mod Cons’ winning that poll I guess, but it was, in my eyes anyway, a definite move forward and one that promised so much more to come.
I first heard it downstairs at the old HMV store on Oxford Street; I’m guessing this would have been the week it came out in March 1982. It was playing on the shop PA and I clearly remember I was nodding along to many of the tracks that were then new to my ears. I purchased it immediately and it was served it up in a candy stripe paper bag, which I’ve still got.
Over the years I have listened to many times and I still think a lot of it stands up very nicely and I also think it shows the next moves that were going on in Paul Weller’s mind at the time. Obviously, that statement is now stating the bleeding obvious, but at the time I didn’t know that this would be the sixth and final studio album by the band and that he Paul, would be soon looking for pastures new.
The different melodies on offer, recorded under the guiding hand of Pete Wilson, encompassed funk, Northern, and even a bit of jazz and I was happy to go with it wholesale. I guess that is what a lot of the aforementioned Jam Army’– many of whom are still struggling into the ever shrinking parka – had trouble with.
Some of it is just a bit too ‘interesting’ for them.
Anyway, I’m diving in. Care to join me?
The title of this blog greets you on the first track ‘Happy Together’ and it fair rattles along. The superb drumming and bass work from Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton respectively fire this love song along. Bruce even gives it the ‘Beatles era McCartney bass wobble’ a couple of times. The lyrical content contains some very nice lines such as ‘Thought that I was a devil? But I’m an angel waiting for my wings.’ Lines like that left your correspondent wondering just how do you write stuff like that?
A slower pace kicks off ‘Ghosts’ with Buckler holding time with rim shots as we slowly shuffle through this 2 minute 11 second song. Brass stabs from Keith Thomas and Steve Nichol hit the spot as Weller delivers the lines urging the listener to not accept the fate that might seem mapped out for them, but to instead grab life and make YOUR life what YOU want.
Maybe just maybe, he was even talking to himself with the end of The Jam in his mind?
‘Your precious love, I need so mmmuuuucccchhhh’ Things get funky next with ‘Precious’, which was a standout track upon the first hearing and it, remains so to this day. The choppy guitars, thumping bass and persistent brass lines have even been known to get this old plum up on the dance floor and that is a rare as hens teeth nowadays. Altogether now ‘Huh!’
The lyrics next up on ‘Just Who is the Five O’clock Hero’ conjure up a sort of ‘play for today’ in my mind as Weller succinctly describes the hum drum daily grind that many listening would have known all too well. Excellent pots and pans work from Rick Buckler on this I thought, as lyric after lyric hits the spot, like a machine gun firing relentlessly at you. Marvellous work.
‘Alright then love I’ll be off now…
We all learnt later that ‘So is the Sun’ by World Column provides the backbone for the right old stomper that is ‘Trans Global Express.’
Hands up who had a clue what Weller was singing about until they read the sleeve notes? No, me neither.
Strangely enough, it didn’t matter really; I just strapped into the groove and went along for the ride. I used to have this on a C90 cassette tape followed by the World Column tune and I would play them both on heavy rotation on my late shifts when I worked in The Print when it was all based on Fleet Street. No doubt I used to drive the old sweats I worked with mental going by the shouts of ‘Will you turn that f*cking row down.’
‘Bollocks!’ I would reply in my vintage Lee Cooper’s and number two crew cut – ‘Fe Fe Fe Fe Fe Fe Fe Fe Fe Faaaaaaaaaaaa…’
Looking back now, ‘The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong’ is obviously a Style Council song in all but name, with the juxtaposition of a jolly old steel band providing the backing to biting words on the world of nutty middle class architects who designed the massive tower blocks of the late 60s, that left people high and dry as once thriving communities broke down due to losing touch with ‘old Mrs smith, who doesn’t get out much more.’
Many of those buildings have now been demolished not 40 years later, so that worked out nicely then eh?
Side two opens with ‘Running on the Spot’ and once again Weller is on fine lyrical form. I recently saw the film ‘Peterloo’ and sat there thinking why had there never been a revolution in the UK? Everything was in place to trigger one, low pay, squalid living conditions for the vast majority and a ruling class that basically pissed all over those below.
But, it didn’t happen and any stirrings in that direction were crushed quickly and violently, like at St. Peters Field in 1819. To my mind, Weller is addressing some of that in this, and the truth, despite all that is going on with those in power today, nothing really has changed.
‘I believe in life – and I believe in love.’
The Bruce Foxton penned instumental ‘Circus’ is next up and it chugs along nicely, giving room and opportunity for all sorts of studio trickery that in the end doesn’t really go anywhere if truth be told.
I now actually think ‘Carnation’ might have started the writing bug in me. Lines like ‘I am out of season all year round’ and ‘I just avert my eyes to the pain’ stuck with me then and as I began reading in earnest around that time, I seriously began to value the power of sentences like that. In truth, I could barely string two words together, well apart from swear words that is, but at least they got me thinking.
This is a solid song, was then, still is.
‘Town Called Malice’ is played before kick off at every home match at The Den, home of my football club Millwall. I always look round me as it begins and see heads begin to nod similar in age to me. It never fails to get a reaction. Its lyrics, kicking against the Thatcher pricks, are mouthed and then shouted as the beat bites deep in the various stands and terraces. If The Kinks had signed to the Motown label, I’m sure they would have come up with something very much like this.
It all comes to an end with a heavyweight and timeless groove, which never fails to get a foot tapping. As the man himself said then and indeed still says all these years later…
‘We gotta keep movin’ – we gotta keep movin’
So there you have it. 33 minutes or so of the end of one band, but the beginnings of another all on one album.
It hit number one in the album charts, so despite the ‘mixed’ reaction it received, it didn’t do too badly did it?
Once again, it opened doors for many of us to other musical styles. Some of us went through that door.
Others remained where they were.
As the World Column sang ‘it makes no difference who you are, no no it really doesn’t mater, it only matters that you care…’
It was ever thus.
The Mumper of SE5