I used to really think war was cool. As a child of the 80s, I was raised on video games, sugary cereals, and ubiquitous product placement. On a constant sugar high, I thought explosions were the bee’s knees, as were action/adventure movies. War movies were a natural extension of the action/adventure genre and films like “Top Gun” and “Red Dawn” further infused me with jingoistic thoughts. USA! USA! USA!!!
Where were we? Oh yeah, anyway, when I got older I decided to move further into films and one of the first war movies I saw as a teenager was “Platoon”. “Platoon” may be a bit overwrought and a little over-the-top (as is Oliver Stone’s wont), but it affected me tremendously as a fourteen year old. I never thought war was cool again and found violent conflicts incredibly disturbing.
Combining an anti-war attitude with teenage rebellion is always an interesting mixture. And with that, I present “Setting Sons” by British punk/mod outfit The Jam.
The Jam is a band I originally got into when furthering my interest in punk. Specifically, 70s british punk. To me, the Clash will always be the best punk band of all time, but The Jam is most likely a close second. The Jam is the brain child of one Paul Weller, basically an angry (angrier?) version of Ray Davies, the lead songwriter of The Kinks. Just like The Kinks, The Jam paints a very vivid image with its lyrics. Some of his songs are simply gorgeous or uplifting, with the song “English Rose” a particular standout. However, most are incredibly pessimistic and full of anguish.
As a disappointed and angry youth–no doubt aided and abetted by my then-current displeasure with the government in representing what young people wanted or needed–The Jam resonated with me on a deep level. Despite his high use of British slang and mention of many exclusively British phenomena (what is a tubestation, exactly?), Paul Weller and the rest of the band spoke to me on a very personal level.
“Setting Sons” is a further refined vision of The Jam’s debut “In The City”. Many of the same angry ideals are present in the album, but the songwriting and production values are of a higher standard. The album is also the closest The Jam came to making a concept album. The concept here being that war is hell.
“Little Boy Soldiers” is a particularly haunting song focused on a young man from recruitment to his ultimate death on the front lines. Much of the song is focused on the youth’s troubled soul and his disillusion with not being heard.
“Burning Sky” is another standout track with some of Bruce Foxton’s best bass playing during his time with the band.
“Setting Sons” is one of my favorite albums of 1979 and quite simply a masterwork of punk. One of the best things about the album is that the anger on display is for a reason, not just to provide controversy. Unlike many punk bands at the time, The Jam is not there to merely shock. Paul Weller and The Jam have some very sobering things to say and do so in an effective way, one that works on both cerebral and visceral levels.
The Jam and “Setting Sons” will always provide a bookmark reminding me of a time in my life when I was truly angry about the injustices that took place all around me. Without the tools to address those injustices, I was incredibly frustrated. The messages The Jam present in their music still resonate with me today and I still view the incredible challenges of injustice and inequity winnable battles. Hopefully battles that won’t be violent in nature.
John still loves punk music…And long walks on the beach. He can be tweeted at @jododojo10 or emailed at email@example.com.