SETTING SONS by Pete Silverton ©Sounds - October 1979
They´ve always settled for working within their own limits. There´s no sense of ambition, no feeling that they´ve got to conquer the world by next Tuesday, Wednesday if they have a half day off on Saturday. So if The Clash are persistent under-achievers, The Jam are constant over-achievers. If you reach for the universe you´ll almost certainly fall flat of your face now and again. If you set yourself modest targets you´ll always get them but won´t you get much further. Which is all by way of a perspective on this album. It´s all good but none of it is great. As with all The Jam´s best work, on first hearing it sounds perfect. It´s only when you look close you see the holes. The real disappointment is that you feel that Weller doesn´t quite understand that to a perfect song, you´ve got to take a lot more into consideration. And, of course, it doesn´t help that he´s as unwitty in his songs as he is in interviews.
You pump them out with your usual panache and style, Guitars ringing around a drum sound so hard you could cut diamonds with it and that whining Surrey accent, Half guttersnipe, half confused adolescent . I found myself thinking of Ray Davies. There´s the same wearing your suburban neurosis on your sleeve, the same lack of over-whelming confidence, the same disbelief that somebody is paying you to do this, and the same understanding that if you go so far, and no further, you´ll never go wrong .
Long may Paul Weller have such modest aims.
SETTING SONS ©Record Mirror - October 1979
Like Ray Davies of The Kinks, Paul Weller is obsessed with England. On SETTING SONS he takes a broader sweep all around. The result is a set of tunes of emotional depth and maturity. As on most of his compositions, here Weller is pointing his finger at the protagonist whilst accepting that he is merely a pawn in society´s game. Let´s just say that SETTING SONS is a far more ambitious and adventurous project in every respect. The last great album of the Seventies.
SETTING SONS by Tony Stewart ©New Musical Express - October 1979
Weller is unlikely to self-destruct because he´s far too clever by far. SETTING SONS is a major development and something of a departure. Basically The Jam are disassociating themselves from mod before they´re buried with it. There isn´t one dubious song among the nine originals. The album is still the greatest risk they´ve taken in their careers. It´s scope has wider connotations but paradoxically, its subjects are narrower and less easy to identify. It´s not a concept album. ´Thick As Thieves´ is possibly the best song Weller has ever written and the key to the album´s theme. The song puts the others in perspective The rest of the album Weller carries alone with his stunning vocals, chopping, abrupt and propulsive guitar and a batch of melodies and arrangement that put many of the songs on ALL MOD CONS into the shade. More than ever, it´s a one man band. SETTING SONS is Weller´s personal statement. The success of this album doesn´t rely on familiarity and identification, but on his talent alone. It´s Paul´s best album yet, almost his first solo album too.
SETTING SONS by Paolo Hewitt ©Melody Maker - October 1979
Progression is the key word here, and this album is the evidence. The album reveals The Jam, and more pertinently Paul Weller, breaking away from the confinements of mod. He´s coolly taking stock off all the evidence, and supplying us with his bleakest picture yet. By using a concept device, Weller is able to put forward two opposing points of view, Outside of this concept, the picture is just as nasty. The band´s ability to put together convincing soundtracks for their scenarios. The Jam have never sounded better. Paul Weller is 21.
SETTING SONS by Robert Christgau - Dean Of American Rock Critsics
Likable lads, as always, and improving themselves, too. The music has gained density and power, and they do OK with the social commentary--nice to see some empathy for doomed middle-class plodders like "Smithers-Jones" instead of the usual contempt, and "The Eton Rifles" and "Little Boy Soldiers" place them firmly on the left. On the other hand, some of this is pretty dumb ("Wasteland," ugh), and overarrangement (not so much extra instruments as dramatic vocal shifts) is no way to disguise thin melody. B+
SETTING SONS by Tony Stewart, New Musical Express, 10 November 1979
CHANGE. IT'S something Paul Weller wrote about on 'To Be Someone', that sour story on All Mod Cons about the kid who wanted to be famous and then wasted it all away. There was a typical Weller air of inevitability in the song, capped perfectly with the characteristic twisted sneer of "But didn't we have a nice time?".
Of course Weller is unlikely to self-destruct because he's too clever by far. He has always adapted to change and rarely taken risks. Three years ago The Jam started with a tried and tested formula of early '60s Who, Weller so besotted with Townshend that imitating the grandfather's style bordered on monomania. But he added a quality of his own: just enough aggressive belligerence to stand to the right of original punk's storm of indignance and insolence.
Weller created for himself a cosy, comfortable position. With their sharp suits, laundered looks and unthreatening demeanour, The Jam's image segregated them from 'subversive' punk. They were middle-class entertainment, seemingly going for mass, and not cult, acceptance. And it took three albums to find their own identity and step out of the warm security of imitation.
All Mod Cons was a brilliant album where Weller discovered his artistic focus. It had followed their debut In The City, which was vibrant but erratic, contrived and too much of a '60s Who appreciation society, and This Is The Modern World, which was one-dimensional with the slogans and catch-phrases for a youth movement, also musically shoddy with Weller all too conscious of the significance of imperfection.
All Mod Cons took the best of both and dumped the conceit of the rest. It was adapted to the prevalent musical climate and has since brought about a change in modern rock 'n' roll. It was a classic, musically mature and lyrically a broad description of its time: the emotions and characters and lifestyles; the classes and the fashions; the escapism and the blunt realities.
On those terms, there probably isn't another '70s album to match it. But Weller knows all about change. While All Mod Cons became a celebrated masterpiece (and Mod celebration) that allowed The Jam to leave behind that surrogate-Who stigma and establish Weller as one of Britain's few great writing talents, its critical acclaim became an impediment.
Just how do they top that?
Write the fourth chapter of the Mod manifesto and invite even stronger comparisons between Weller and Ray Davies and Townshend?
No, Setting Sons is a major development and something of a departure. Basically The Jam are disassociating themselves from Mod before they're buried with it.
Musically the style is familiar, if more measured and weightier than before, and there isn't one dubious song among the nine originals. Lyrically it's characteristically Weller, involving social scenarios and observations on class and fashion. Even so the album is still the greatest risk they've taken in their careers.
Apart from 'Saturday's Kids' — a brilliant piece of reportage: "Saturdays kids live in council houses/Wear v-necked shirts and baggy trousers/Drive Cortinas fur trimmed dash boards/Stains on the seats — in the back of course!" — Setting Sons doesn't possess the easily recognisable youth tribalism of All Mod Cons. Its scope has wider connotations but, paradoxically, its subjects are narrower and less easy to identify.
It's not a 'concept' album in terms of a story but Sons has a recurrent theme, dealing primarily with change: growing old, growing apart, growing whimsical, growing cynical…
"No it wasn't enough — and now we've gone and spoiled everything/Now we're no longer as thick as thieves."
'Thick As Thieves' is possibly the best song Weller has ever written and the key to the album's theme. Second track in on side one, following the ridiculously superficial 'Girl On The Phone', it's the long, detailed story of a friendship and the closeness of that relationship: "We stole from the schools and their libraries/We stole from the drugs that sent us to sleep/We stole from the drink that made us sick/We stole anything that we couldn't keep/And it was enough — we didn't have to spoil anything/And always be as thick as thieves."
Then comes the eventual breakup: "But something came along that changed our minds/I don't know what and I don't know why/But we seemed to grow up in a flash of time/While we watched our ideals helplessly unwind."
The song puts the others into perspective, each one explaining why the group split up: 'Burning Sky', the busy businessman's letter of excuses; 'The Eton Rifles', a tale of a misguided, impotent revolutionary challenging the establishment — "Thought you were smart when you took them on/But you didn't take a peep in their artillery room/All that rugby puts hairs on your chest/What chance have you got against a tie and crest"; 'Wasteland', a bleak grey landscape, Weller's metaphor of life; 'Private Hell', the tale of unfilled dreams as a woman goes into depressing middle-age. And even the opening of 'Little Boy Soldiers' slots briefly into the theme before becoming an anti-war song, with Weller finally resigning himself to the futility of protest (in much the same way as he does on 'The Eton Rifles'): "These days I find that I can't be bothered/To argue with them, well what's the point."
'Girl On The Phone', the somewhat misplaced 'Heat Wave' (about as interpretive as 'In The Midnight Hour' on Modern World) and Bruce Foxton's 'Smithers-Jones' are the only contrasts to the bleak, distraught and depressing theme. And the latter — the ironic story of the conscientious toff who gets sacked by a sun-tanned boss, thus reinforcing the general impression that life's a tragedy, no matter what — is the major stylistic departure, sweet vocals over a curtain of strings.
Strings? Is this the modern world or not?
The rest of the album Weller carries alone with his stunning vocals, chopping, abrupt and propulsive guitar, and a batch of melodies and arrangements that put many of the songs on All Mod Cons into the shade.
There's the power of 'Thieves'; the ragged anger of 'Private Hell'; the mellow prettiness of 'Wasteland'; the theatrical drama of the three movements in 'Little Boy Soldiers'; the staccato, slashing guitar on 'Burning Sky'…
And the hooks and harmonies — the commercialism — are all there, with drummer Rick Buckler and bassist Foxton following Weller's order implicitly. More than ever, it's a one man band, away now from fashion and transient fads. Setting Sons is Weller's own personal statement.
Unlike All Mod Cons, Weller is setting himself a daring test: the success of this album doesn't rely on familiarity and identification, but on his talent alone.
It's Paul's best album yet; almost his first solo album too.