I fucking loved the Jam, but never felt compelled to buy any of their music at the time because pocket money was limited and I could usually count on at least three of my friends at school to have bought the record before I'd even heard it was out; and then four albums later it all turned to shite, and shite of such a powerful stench as to sour the thought of ever owning anything touched by the hand of Weller. Nevertheless, thirty years have passed, which has proven sufficient to dim vague memories of the Style Council and the Cappuccino Kid, allowing that earlier era of general brilliance to once again shine through, and specifically to shine a ray directly into my eye just as I'm stood in the CD & DVD Exchange on Broadway.
'Bloody hell,' I say to myself, because I haven't thought about the Jam in a long, long time.
Compact Snap! is the truncated CD version of a vinyl double album of greatest hits, and for the first sixteen tracks it's sheer bliss; well, maybe fourteen tracks, because Start! only really qualifies as okay, and I probably haven't needed to hear That's Entertainment since about 2002 by which point it was the only song being played on at least three London radio stations; let's say up to and including Funeral Pyre, the last truly great Jam single.
These tracks are the Jam as I prefer to remember them, a real band as opposed to just a vehicle for Weller's growing sense of his own genius, sharp and punky yet well-dressed both sartorially and musically, and angry without being a dick about it. There's something very uplifting about even horror stories such as Down in the Tube Station at Midnight and The Eton Rifles, and then there's Smithers-Jones which was just about the greatest song of 1979, possibly the entire decade. Essentially they were a soul band with a punky dynamic.
Of course it all went tits up as Weller slowly became his own Tony Hancock impersonation, indirectly encouraging a thousand horrible Cromwellian imitators like Dennis Greaves' The Truth, all desperately wishing it could be 1966 again and that we didn't have to endure homosexual drag clowns playing their synthesiser disco on Top of the Pops. There are a couple of songs I'd thankfully forgotten on Compact Snap!, mostly those sounding like every other record of 1982 to feature a sweaty bloke with a crewcut in one of those German military vests parping away on a trumpet; and Town Called fucking Malice from that film about big-hearted yet rootsy northerners overcoming Thatcherism and their own northernly shortcomings by embracing ballet, proper culture and listening to Radio 4 a bit more often. The last five hits on this collection suck so hard that they sound kind of lost isolated from their natural habitat of a Now That's What I Deem To Be Music compilation sandwiched between Charlene's I've Never Been To Me and Blue fucking Rondo a la Turk; probably best to think of them as early Style Council rather than late Jam; and then of course there was Weller refusing to speak to the other two for the next couple of decades...
Let's just remember them as they were, as they still sound on In the City, All Around the World, and all the others, young and fucking brilliant.