19 November 2012 (released)
08 November 2012
Hindsight always allows a different reflection on the career or significance of a band or their albums and The Gift, The Jam’s last ever studio album, is no different. Soon after its release Paul Weller ended the band’s life and was soon causing anger amongst his loyal followers by forming soul-pop outfit The Style Council. Listening to it now, the move by Weller to the sound of his next band was not such a leap and should not have been such a surprise.
The Gift was The Jam’s only number one album, and was released with the band at the top of their game, as the live Wembley CD included with this package shows. Weller’s decision to wrap it up is therefore even more impressively brave. Quitting when you’re ahead is difficult, and Weller quit The Jam, when they were way ahead of most other UK bands of their time and absolutely at the top of their game.
Here The Jam opened up their musical palette more than ever and stretched beyond the pop-punk of the first five albums. Here there are strings and full brass band and an embracing of black musical culture that now seems an obvious move to make (and indeed common these days) but in 1982 was genuinely original. Weller’s love of Northern Soul led the band into areas that outraged some fans and caused friction with Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler who wanted to maintain the band’s traditional sound. But it gave The Gift a feel that is not so caught in time like earlier tracks such as Going Underground or Eton Rifles.
The box-set is a fascinating listen. Aside from enjoying the original 31 minute long album and the band’s best single Town Called Malice, there is plenty to enjoy. On disc number 1 there is the original 12” mix of Precious, which is glorious and surprisingly funky, as well as the excellent ska feel of Pity Poor Alfie mixed with a version of Fever. Other cover versions of Edwin Starr’s War and Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up (both included here) only underline Weller’s motown and soul fixation.
There are also the last few singles with Beat Surrender still sounding glorious, 30 years after its release as well as the delightful The Bitterest Pill. For die-hard fans there are demos and instrumentals that show how tracks like Beat Surrender developed and the Wembley gig from 1982 shows a band in fine form, especially a rousing version of Down In The Tube Station. An extra DVD of videos and a Danish TV appearance add extra intrigue to a wonderful box-set. But none of the content over shadows the original classic album.