The Jam - Sound Affects (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Jam

Sound Affects (1980)


I was at a pop punk show the other night in Cambridge and it occurred to me how important three British bands were to the birth of American pop punk: The Buzzcocks, The Clash, and The Jam (yes, the Ramones too, but I hear more of Pete Shelley than Joey Ramone in Joyce Manor's yelping, for example). The Jam and other British punk bands, influenced heavily by The Who, The Kinks and power pop, brought back the pop song as an urgent, well oiled machine, with the players each contributing to the product, a piece communicating as much emotion and message as possible to the listener in a short period of time.

Sound Affects, the fifth album by The Jam, is a little jarring compared to All Mod Cons and Setting Sons because it has such a strong live sound in comparison with earlier work and is far, far more danceable. You can hear James Brown, late 70s post punk, and Sam Cooke all over this album, and "Scrape Away", the last track, resembles "Shout", with Weller, Foxton, and Buckler gleefully jamming on the chorus in the last few minutes (though they were clearly smart enough to stop when they were ahead). But it's a progression that also makes a lot of sense - The Jam always had a R+B element because of their mod influences and on "Start!" and "Music For The Last Couple" for example, they run with it, utilizing, well, stop and start melodies, breakdowns, and syncopation. The Jam rose above accusations of commercial hackery because they played brilliantly together and that absolutely shines through on this record.

That and that the songs are so, so fucking good. "That's Entertainment" is the most famous song on the album and that's specifically because it's the best one, a deeply ominous panorama of moody images and unpleasant shit, all underscored by alternately frightening and soothing acoustic guitars and "la la la's": "A smash of glass and a rumble of boots/An electric train and a ripped up 'phone booth/That's entertainment..." Other songs also fit into a psychedelic mode as well, like the Sgt. Pepper's turned into punk "Dream Time", while "Set The House Ablaze" confronts a newly converted fascist: "Promises, promises, they offer solutions, but hate has never won for long." (It's absolutely terrifying that Europe is confronted with the same far right wing crap they had to deal with more than thirty years ago). Weller is surrounded by political chaos, poverty, and despair, but he still tries to keep going, notice the smaller things, and pay attention to the girl he loves.

Sound Affects can be heard in every pop punk band who put lightning speed joy before technical virtuosity and that's not a bad thing. Unlike a lot of modern American pop punk however, the infusion of soul and dance music is what makes Sound Affects still a unique, breathless wonder of rock n' roll. Sound Affects is the sound of a band pushing themselves even as they refine their songwriting and their playing, and that's what makes it a classic.