35 years to the day after The Jam's fourth studio album was released, Universal is re-issuing 'Setting Sons' with a host of extras. Despite its commercial success, it's never been The Jam album I've gravitated towards, 'All Mod Cons' or 'Sound Affects' seemed far more appealing. Perhaps that's because 'Setting Sons' is somewhat frustrating; it's an incomplete and abandoned concept album of two young friends being sent into an unnamed war, as evidenced by the album cover photo of the bronze statue of St John's Ambulance Bearers. So the question is; does this super deluxe version restore Paul Weller's vision of a cohesive narrative?
The simple answer is no. However, the second disc does group the song cycle that begins with 'Thick As Thieves' together for the first time in demo form, and then presents unreleased demos such as 'Simon' and 'Along The Grove' (featuring Weller almost symbolically abandoning the idea for a song midway through). The opportunity to shed new light on Weller's incomplete vision of a Jam concept album does seem to have been missed here, but really that's my only complaint about this re-issue.
On the other hand, this 60-track set is surprisingly successful in providing context to The Jam circa 1979. It's also made me re-appreciate and re-evaluate the core album itself. The first seconds of 'Setting Sons' feature the ring of a rotary desk phone, like a sound from a time capsule, but in truth the album hasn't really dated. The social commentary of class division ('Saturday's Kids' and 'The Eton Rifles') and even data protection and privacy ('Girl On The Phone') feel just as relevant today as they did during the last throes of the Punk revolution. Even the more adventurous musical choices such as a recorder being used during 'Wasteland' or the woodwind driven 'Smithers-Jones' sound far less problematic than I remembered.
Continue reading: The Jam - Setting Sons (Super Deluxe Edition) Album Review