Sunday, 1 March 2009

1982 The Jam: A Town Called Malice

Paul Weller had never made a secret of his passion for Northern Soul and classic Motown recordings, and in 'A Town Called Malice' he manages to pay homage to both (and to the Wigan Casino which closed its doors for good the previous year) whilst kicking against the pricks of a right wing government hell bent on inflicting social misery and injustice on the perceived enemy within - the working classes.

In 'A Town Called Malice', Weller paints a vivid picture of his contemporary Woking home town that manages to distil both essence and substance of the writings of the 'Angry Young Men' of the 1950's who described and railed against the social and political alienation of their times. Though updated by thirty years, Weller's defiantly left wing stance shows a world that has little changed:
"A whole streets belief in Sunday's roast beef, gets dashed against the co-op. To either cut down on beer or the kids new gear, it's a big decision in a town called malice".

Arthur Seaton would have recognised those streets, Jo from 'A Taste Of Honey' would have appreciated that decision. And that was exactly Weller's point, and it was a point made with a startlingly evocative clarity in the couplet:
"Rows and rows of disused milk floats stand dying in the dairy yard. And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts. Hanging out their old love letters on
the line to dry"
. John Osbourne or Shelagh Delaney would have been pleased to have come up with lines of optimistic hopelessness as good, and yet the lyrics are only half the story here; as politicised as Weller undoubtedly was, he's savvy enough to know that his diatribe would change nothing and that a message reaches a wider audience when it comes gift wrapped with a bow: "I could go on for hours and I probably will, but I'd sooner put some joy back in this town called malice". And the music here is truly a joy.

From the opening lift of
'You Can't Hurry Love's bassline (albeit now plucked out with a masonary nail) to the 'thin wild mercury sound' organ swirl, drum fills and handclaps, 'A Town Called Malice' swings like a motherfucker and does not let up until close less than three minutes later. A short, sharp shock of a tune, it manages to sound ferociously modern and reassuringly traditional in its structure. You could remove the vocal track in it's entirety and what remains would be no less effective at filling a dancefloor, and there's something smugly subversive about mixing anger with such good time music that hits home harder than any number of hardcore punk acts screaming over a three chord thrash. 'A Town Called Malice' captures The Jam at their peak in terms of writing and playing, and at 2.52 long with a killer B side in 'Precious', it was as classic a 45 that had been released to date. Yet hindsight shows it couldn't last; Weller knew he was recycling ideas and recycling music within the current set up. The band were fast losing its effectiveness as a conduit for his vision and soon they would be no more.

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