Setting Sons review by The Jam

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  • Released: Nov 17, 1979
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.2 (5 votes)
The Jam: Setting Sons

Sound — 8
The Jam's fourth album Setting Sons comes within the crossroads of the seminal punk/new wave/mod revival band's short yet celebrated life. Perhaps their hardest hitting album - wedged between its predecessor All Mod Cons and the experimental fifth LP Sound Affects - it was released at a time where the band had started to firmly lay its claim as one of the largest bands of the era. Never shy from influences by The Who and The Kinks, Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler lay down their attempt to capture everyday life for the British citizen using their signature Ricenbracker guitar, complex basslines and hard hitting drums. Originally planned as a concept album revolved around three friends caught in a civil war and their lives heading in different directions, it was abandoned due to a short recording time required and from here uses a mix of concept songs and Jam standards.

Lyrics — 8
As the "Modfather", Weller had never covered up his admiration of writers such as Ray Davies and Pete Townshend. The early premise of the album's storyline was descended from them where The Who had released Quadrophenia and Tommy, and The Kinks known for their several movements in songs. Even with this heavy influence from his favourite mods, Weller still had a knack for producing his own unique novellas which can easily translate to the everyday person. 01. Girl On The Phone: Weller's fame had caught him in a tough situation where he had a stalker claim that she "knows me so well, better than anyone, better than myself". Although rather simplistic for The Jam - especially with a repetitive chorus - it captures the mad situation which he was stuck in, and lets him vent his fear for anyone to understand rather well. 02. Think As Thieves: one of the concept songs which attempted to follow the story of a civil war, it speaks of the naive nature of troops caught up in a war which they did not sign up for and how they grow so quickly whilst caught up in all the troubles. The lyrics are classic Jam, its guitar work effective and Weller's voice complemented with Foxton's lets the listener be immersed in the song. 03. Private Hell: the thumping bassline coupled with dirty guitar tracks build up a song centered around a mother's "Private Hell" of being caught in a world where her family alienates themselves from the traditional home. The lyrics - inspired by Davie's tendency to name people in songs with first names - creates a worry for listeners who wonder how life had turmoil had reached us all, with Weller's echoing voice sending chills. 04. Little Boy Soldiers: another concept song, Davie's influence is seen again with its many movements. Weller's lyrics paint an army justifying its reasoning for war, that "God's on our side and so is Washington", and that "it was done beneath the flag of democracy" and that no matter what occurs, they are in the right. A truly outstanding song from the LP. 05. Wasteland: introduced with a recorder, this simple ballad is another concept song. Here, a man tries to meet with a long time love at the wastelands where they reminisce about their simple blue-collard childhood and how they are now aged and weary. A true heartwarmer, it is definitely underrated in Jam circles. 06. Burning Sky: another concept song, it speaks of how one of the three boys turns into a staunch capitalist. His 'letter' to the other two claims that "work comes first, I'm sure you understand", and that "ideals are fine when you are young...but it's all it was and ever will be". Weller's hatred of the system is placed through this ironic song, where Bucker's drums attempt to bring out the anger felt in the system where "we'll all bow down to the burning sky". 07. Smithers-Jones: one of a handful of songs written by Foxton, it is a remake of the B-Side on the When You're Young single. Instead of the traditional guitar/bass/drum combo which the band was famous for, it employed a string section throughout spare a guitar coda. The "Jam philharmonic" does the song justice, bringing out the 9-to-5 life of a white-collared worker made redundant who now finds "time to relax you've worked your ass off, but the only one smiling is your sun-tanned boss". 08. Saturday's Kids: a call to arms for council housed teens, Weller vividly describes the straightforward lives which these kids hold. Asking "what's the system" and cheekily claiming "stains on the seats, in the back of course!" as their form of entertainment, it easily conveys the mundane lives which they are expected to live, but somehow romanticizes their simpleton surroundings. 09. Eton Rifles: the main single for the record, it tells of the clash between the working class with the privileged outside the grounds of the famed Eton College. With unionists on strike, the Etonians see their complaints as unwarranted, and brawl with their mortal enemies. Weller engages in a proud working-class call to arms filled with British colloquialisms designed to raise morale for the defeated. 10. Heat Wave: a cover of the Martha and the Vandellas song written by HollandDozierHolland, the band follows the three piece band arrangement set out by The Who during the 60's. Although panned for being a cover and being deemed as out of place, the song - with piano sprinkled on it by Weller's future partner in the Style Council Mick Talbot - is a fitting dance to end the album on a high note, especially where the bulk of its songs cover negatives.

Overall Impression — 8
Although The Jam was essentially a band 15 years late for its genre, it has played a pivotal role in the future of British music. Even with Weller's perceived unoriginality for following a dead fad, bands such as Oasis and Arctic Monkeys are starting to claim influence from the Modfather. The album is straightforward in its delivery, message and music; a trait followed by indie bands the world over. Its standouts of Little Boy Soldiers and Eton Rifles provide a layout for the mod to adhere to, where simplicity and loudness join together to create a cacophony of noise. Its unsung heroes from Wasteland and Saturday's Kids allow it to appeal to all people, where their lives are narrated through his clever lyrics. Overall, a record worth remembering.

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