Saturday, 21 March 2009

1982 The Jam: Beat Surrender

And so the end of The Jam came with a bang and a whimper. A bang in that Weller's announcement of the break up of the band when they were at the top of their game was as sudden as it was unexpected. A whimper in that 'Beat Surrender' is not their finest hour and was probably carried to number one more on a wave of sentiment than it's inherent quality.

It was a fateful sign that the final single from The Jam was a toss up between this and 'Solid Bond In Your Heart'. The latter went on to become a single from the 'what Weller did next' Style Council, but it's clear that in 1982 he'd outgrown the punk/new wave genre that nurtured him and that his aspirations lay in a more soul based direction and it's telling that, in all the contemporary promotional footage of this song, Weller is dressed more like a French student than the sharp mod of old.

To that end at least, 'Beat Surrender' follows their previous 'A Town Called Malice' by being delivered in a horn blasting, foot stomping Northern Soul wrapper which powers from 0-60 in a matter of seconds from the brief piano led introduction and barely draws breath until the fade out.

At close on three and a half minutes, it's longer than the majority of the band's singles , though ironically it has the least to say. As far as the lyrics go, they act as a goodbye of sorts - that is, a goodbye to The Jam and an embracing of whatever the future might bring:
"All the things that I care about (are packed into one punch). All the things that I'm not sure about (are sorted out at once). And as it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end, that bullshit is bullshit, it just goes by different names"

It's as well to spell out them out here because the muddy production and mumbled vocal makes what Weller is saying incredibly difficult to make out. It's almost as if he's too lethargic and fed up with it all to enunciate his lines clearly, leaving Bruce Foxton to belt out his side of the call and response exchange as if his life depended on it. Which, as he was staring the dole queue in the face, he probably felt it did at the time and perhaps this was his way of trying to convince Weller that there was still fight in the old dog yet. In any event, they are of virtually secondary consideration to the blatant hook of the chorus:
"Come on boy, come on girl. Succumb to the beat surrender", a couplet that tries hard to swing and swing but falls just shy of connecting with a clean punch, and it's constant, constant repetition makes it sound more forced than free, leaving it frustratingly unsatisfying in an 'is that it'? kind of way. Sure the rolling piano and thick brass interludes generate a party atmosphere, but you just know that Weller wasn't trying all that hard by this stage and 'Beat Surrender' falls well short of past glories. There's no doubt that the passing of The Jam marked the end of an era, and few bands who have had the same level of success have ended so suddenly and definitively. In hindsight, the symbolism is potent; it's almost as if the curtain was finally being brought down on the seventies and the eighties were now free to begin in earnest.

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