Wednesday, May 21, 2008

TVD's Wellerweek | Day Three

People thought Paul Weller was crazy for walking away from The Jam just as the band had reached a commercial zenith. Indeed, some people apparently have never forgiven him for it. Yet, as Pete Townshend wrote about Weller, “I have never come across another artist or writer so afraid of appearing hypocritical.” Accordingly, Weller stated “anything that is good must come to an end if it wishes to remain good.” He was not about to continue just for the sake of commercial success. He had other avenues he wanted to explore and felt limited by The Jam’s image and Bruce and Rick musically.

Liberated from the pressures of The Jam (17 singles, 6 studio albums, over 500 gigs in 6 years), Paul Weller re-signed with Polydor as a solo artist and formed a publishing company called Stylist Music in early 1983. He recruited keyboardist Mick Talbot, previously of Merton Parkas and Dexy’s Midnight Runners, to join him in a loose pop collective. Talbot had been on The Jam’s cover of “Heat Wave” and Weller loved his Hammond playing, which reminded him of The Small Faces’ sound.

Whereas The Jam had been British to the core, Weller wanted The Style Council to project a European sensibility. Hence the photo shoots in France, liner notes from the Cappuccino Kid, café imagery, and European mod tailoring. Furthermore, Weller did not want to be in a band like The Jam again. Aside from himself and Talbot, the lineup of The Style Council was supposed to be flexible, picking up players to meet the musical needs of each particular song. This way, Weller envisioned The Style Council being able to be much more experimental than The Jam could ever have been. Finally, Paul Weller wanted to deconstruct his serious image and the idea of him as a spokesman for his generation. Therefore, early promo material for The Council often had Weller flitting about with Talbot, smiling, seemingly having fun and generally acting silly.

Despite these grand ideas, The Style Council did become more or less a regular band for most of its existence with the addition of Steve White on drums and Dee C Lee on backing vocals. Additionally, with Thatcherism’s destruction of the British working class proceeding at full speed during the early to mid-80s, Weller could not help but get involved in protest. Along with Billy Bragg, The Council formed the Red Wedge tour to campaign for socialist causes, while during the coal miner’s strike in 1984, they recorded “Soul Deep,” donating all the proceeds to the miners. Overall, The Style Council was a political group to a much greater extent than The Jam had ever been – and pretty damn serious too! During the mid-80s, Weller had once again become the spokesman for protest and change in England. The one original guiding idea that Weller was able to realize during The Council’s existence was his commitment to musical experimentation. Each new Style Council album was markedly different than the previous one.

I think I must be one of the few Americans who can admit this, but for a long period of time The Style Council was my favorite band. I could not wait for their next single – traveling down to the little record store in Bridgeport, CT to pick up the import 12-inch. The artwork was always great and studying the latest missive from the Cappuccino Kid was educational. Plus, Weller gave you great value for your money. The 12-inch singles always had extra non-album tracks that were usually killer (May 1985’s “Walls Come Tumbling Down” comes to mind with “Spin’ Drifting,” “The Whole Point II,” and “Blood Sports” comprising the b-side!).

The first song selected for download below is “The Whole Point of No Return” from The Style Council’s debut LP Café Blue (released March 1984, #2 in the UK charts [a mini-LP Introducing The Style Council had come out in September 1983]). Café Blue is one of the most eclectic albums ever, featuring political rap, jazz, four instrumentals, a re-working of “The Paris Match” with Tracey Thorn on vocals instead of Weller, and some great pop, including “Headstart For Happiness” and “Here’s One That Got Away.” “The Whole Point” is Weller solo on guitar singing about class inequalities and suggesting how easy it would be to rise up and expropriate what rightly belongs to the masses.

“Walls Come Tumbling Down,” selected below is from The Style Council’s second LP Our Favourite Shop. “Walls Come Tumbling Down” has everything that made The Council great – a brief Hammond intro from Talbot joined quickly by a horn section and Steve White’s drums to get the song off to a feverish start. Then Weller comes in with the vocals: You don’t have to take this crap/You don’t have to sit back and relax/You can actually try changing it. A brilliant pop song with a “call to arms” message and Dee’s great backing vocals! Our Favourite Shop was released on June 1, 1985 and went to number 1 on the British charts. In my opinion this is the best album from the mid-80s – nothing even comes close as far as I’m concerned. A coherent set of well-crafted pop songs with an overtly political tone Our Favourite Shop was an important statement by The Style Council. Reflecting on the album and the times, Weller has said recently, “You couldn’t sit on the fence. It was very black and white then. Thatcher was a tyrant, a dictator.” “A Man of Great Promise” also selected below from this album is one of the few non-political songs. Instead it is a deeply personal tribute by Weller to his friend, Dave Waller, who had died of a heroin overdose.

The next Style Council album, The Cost of Loving was released on February 7, 1987. It went to number 2 in the UK charts. I have a very specific memory of purchasing the US version of this LP at Tower Records in DC when it was released domestically in April. This was The Style Council’s R&B, soul, and funk album and critics did not like it. I remember being a bit disappointed too, but nowadays I enjoy most of it. The title track is selected below and features the sweet intertwined vocals of Paul and Dee C and Mick on a Rhodes synthesizer instead of his trademark Hammond.

The last song today comes from The Style Council’s next LP, Confessions Of A Pop Group (released June 25, 1988, reaching only number 15 in the charts). “Changing Of The Guard” is a beautiful Weller and Dee C Lee duet (at this point the two had now become husband and wife). Confessions is not a great album. Recorded as he was approaching 30, this was the period when Weller, one of the great guitarists of his generation, refused to play guitar in public. Indeed he plays much more piano on this record than guitar. There is 3-part classical suite that misses the mark and a heavy use of drum machines instead of the brilliant Steve White. Many of the lyrics, however, are as profound as ever and still deeply powerful. Confessions Of A Pop Group also has “It’s A Very Deep Sea” on it, one of Paul Weller’s all-time great songs. Seeing him play it last year in New York City was a major highlight of that 3-night residency.

The Style Council - The Whole Point Of No Return (Mp3)
The Style Council - Walls Come Tumbling Down (Mp3)
The Style Council - A Man Of Great Promise (Mp3)
The Style Council - The Cost Of Loving (Mp3)
The Style Council - Changing Of The Guard (Mp3)

(Dates, stats, and quotes for this section of Wellerweek derived from The Complete Adventures of The Style Council and