The Jam never really sounded as much like The Who as journalists wanted you to believe, but The Who had been a key influence on the band ever since Paul Weller fell in love with My Generation. Aside from the occasional musical flourish—a storm of drums, a pick scrape down guitar strings, flicker of pick up— Weller derived much attitude and image from the early Who. For 1979’s Setting Sons, he picked up on another important Who calling card. It was to be a concept album with a story about three childhood friends whose wartime experiences divide them as adults. As so often happened to The Who, the realities of the record making business meant The Jam had to abandon their ambitions to rush new product into stores. So like The Who Sell Out or Lifehouse/Who’s Next, Setting Sons is really half a concept album. Also like those albums, it’s great.
The Jam’s first two albums were pretty punk. Their third, All Mod Cons, went in more of a polished pop direction. Setting Sons incorporated the best elements of both phases with some of the hardest hitting and loveliest music of their career. In the former camp is “Eton Rifles”, a classic statement of righteous outrage against privileged military cadets, and the incendiary “Private Hell”. In the latter is the ultra-mini mini-opera “Little Boy Soldiers”, the stripped-down Motown vibe “Girl on a Phone”, and the exquisite orchestrated re-recording of Bruce Foxton’s “Smithers-Jones”.
The only track to miss the boat is a cover of “Heat Wave”, though this is interesting because it reveals The Who’s influence on two levels: it’s clearly patterned on their version and not The Vandellas’ original, and it serves the exact same filler purpose on Setting Sons as it did on The Who’s own semi-conceptual second album, A Quick One. Like The Who’s version, The Jam’s is not bad; it’s just out of place amongst such an exceptional selection of original songs.
UMe’s new deluxe edition of Setting Sons continues the story with the non-LP singles “Strange Town” b/w “Butterfly Collector”, “When You’re Young” b/w “Smithers-Jones (in its rocking original state), and “Going Underground” b/w “Dreams of Children”, as well as “Eton Rifles” in its edited 45 form b/w “See-Saw”. These sides constitute some of the greatest singles of the turn of the decade.
Disc Two celebrates the intense live act The Jam were with a BBC concert caught at London’s Rainbow Theatre on December 4, 1979. Previously released as a limited edition bonus track on 2002’s The Jam at the BBC, this show mostly showcases Setting Sons and All Mod Cons. There are only a couple early classics, “The Modern World” (complete with BBC-censored “fuck”) and “Away from the Numbers”. The Jam may have developed beyond the punk rawness of those numbers on vinyl at this point, but they still kept it alight on stage.
Setting Sons is also available as a four-disc Super Deluxe edition with an extra CD of alternative takes, demos, and Peel sessions and a DVD of television appearances and music videos. A previously unreleased show at the Brighton Centre takes the place of the Rainbow one.
Get Setting Sons as a Deluxe or Super Deluxe edition on Amazon.com here: