“A sad finale for a remarkable band.” That’s how the BBC reviewed an album that came out on this day in 1982. And while it won them a new batch of fans in North America, it would seem most Brits probably agreed with the “Beeb”’s opinion of The Gift, the sixth and final studio album by The Jam.
By that point, The Jam had been around for a decade and become one of the UK’s favorites with their short, rocking, socially-aware songs that got them generally labeled as “punk”. The label was probably incorrect in sound, although the trio did at times hang out with other punk acts of that era. As many have pointed out, The Jam was leading what was considered a “Mod revival” and were influenced by The Who and The Kinks, as well as to a lesser extent, American R&B. Perhaps surprisingly, The Quietus noted that while The Jam’s driving force, singer/guitarist Paul Weller, knew Pete Townshend, they “clashed” as, according to Townshend, Weller thought The Who an “establishment rock act that punk had bust out against” and considered the older band too focused on commercial success.
Townshend wasn’t the only one Weller was not getting along with that well by this point in time. His bandmates , bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler were feeling unappreciated as Weller and his growing love of Stax and Motown was taking more and more control over the band’s sound and direction. Thus was the back story for The Gift.
The Gift continued to see the band’s sound change, and showed a distinctive push towards a reflection of the American R&B and soul. While, as allmusic would point out, “Weller can obviously do soulful – his voice has never sounded better”, and there were some standout songs, overall, the 11-song, 32 minute work was a little lacking.
That didn’t stop it from being a hit, mind you. In Britain, it became their first #1 album and their third gold one. It hit new highs in New Zealand (#10) and Canada (#22), largely on the strength of the great leadoff single, their third British #1 song, “Town Called Malice”. The jaunty rant about the underclass, powered along by more than a passing glance at The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” was one of the great successes of “punk” – an angry tune that tears a strip off both the government, and lazy, dull people who fall behind and blame others, while still sounding happy and eminently danceable. It was their first top 20 hit in Canada, and although not a mainstream hit in the U.S., it did break them on college radio and the few “alternative rock” stations of the day, like KROQ in L.A. where it was their 13th biggest song of the year.
The next single, “Precious” was well-liked as well, with its frenetic, funky sound and added saxes. Their ode to the working man, “Just Who Is The 5 O’clock Hero”, was subject to mixed reviews, but was popular enough at home to get to #8 despite being available only as an import 7”.
The rest of the album, however, was seen as rather uninspired. Allmusic would rate it only 2.5-stars, whereas three of their previous ones had garnered perfect 5-star ratings. It noted that it was “uneven” and “marked by indulgences” and that despite only one song clocking in at 4 minutes, it was flawed with “unnecessarily long songs.” Likewise, the BBC lauded “Town Called Malice” and the “lashing, funk-struck workout ‘Precious’” but said they were the only great tracks. Later on, Weller would seem to agree, suggesting in liner notes of reissues that his bandmates weren’t “sufficiently adept” to do anything but simple punk songs, to which the BBC suggested “the superb rhythm section is less culpable than Weller’s sub-standard songs.”
With dissention like that, it should have been little surprise that The Jam broke up before the year’s end and about twelve months later, Weller was already working in a new band, Style Council. Perhaps one final gift that The Gift delivered was influencing another, bigger record the next year. One can’t help but notice the similarity of the cover, with its pictures of the band swathed in a trio of bright colors, with The Police’s 1983 biggie, Synchronicity.