Setting Sons The Jam (Polydor)
Famously prolific Paul Weller was once the absurdly young frontman of (and creative force behind) the Jam. And with his first group he also churned out albums with remarkable regularity.
Weller said he learned the art of the follow-up from the example set by the Beatles. He learned well: the Jam's Setting Sons arrived in record stores across Britain exactly a year after the release of the group's first truly brilliant five-star set, 1978's All Mod Cons. And, in turn, Setting Sons was followed within a year by Sound Affects.
The three albums together form a kind of magnum opus. Moreover, it's the only vinyl-era three-consecutive-albums set that can even hope to elicit a comparison with the Beatles' Rubber Soul/Revolver/Sergeant Pepper sequence. In my view it does.
Of these three seminal albums, Setting Sons rocked the hardest, possessed the most fiery spirit but yielded fewer contemplative elements. Today, its production sounds raw and stripped down, but it has aged magnificently. It also sounds uncannily topical.
Indeed, if track four, Little Boy Soldiers, is released tomorrow as an anti-war anthem, it'll be on tens of millions of iPods by next weekend. But Setting Sons' highlight is the incendiary The Eton Rifles. On this, the album's single, Weller sings with the enraged conviction of the street revolutionary, albeit wielding a Rickenbacker guitar in the direction of the elitist establishment he so detested, instead of a Molotov cocktail.
The lyrics of the song form an engaging and cinematic narrative: Eton College toffs against the proles. The proles take a beating, of course, because 'What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?' Despite this keenly imagined setback on the banks of the River Thames, the Jam's proudly working-class fan base couldn't get enough of Weller. He swiftly became their voice, and his empathy with the vast swathe of a society - Margaret Thatcher's Britain - that was marginalised by the cruelty and stupidity of market forces-led governance, found powerful expression on songs such as Saturdays Kids, one of Setting Sons' strongest cuts.
All the Weller originals here are faultless, with the exception of the lame Wasteland. Intriguingly, on Setting Sons the group cover the Motown standard Heatwave. The Jam's version had its naysayers but I've always loved their euphoric take on this gem from the Holland-Dozier-Holland song factory.
Although almost flawless in its original form, the record label did the right thing with their 2001 re-release and tacked on the long-lost, wonderful b-side See-Saw, plus the non-album singles of Setting Sons' time, including When You're Young, Strange Town and Going Underground.
All instant classics, all spine-tingling in their mixture of melodic beauty and righteous anger, and all - as even Weller has agreed on record, so to speak - sit nicely here.