A look back at The Jam’s most underrated album

The Jam’s second album in 1977 was hastily assembled and received even more hastily. After the release of their debut, In the city, The Jam needed to keep the punk train going, so they shoveled as much coal as they could and closed the hatch. Three agreements and the truth, that would bring them to fruition. Except, at the exit, This is the modern world looked more like three chords and a picture of a cat scrawled on the package of a packet of cereal.

The problem, IMHO, is that the original reviews of The Jam’s follow-up disc aren’t trustworthy. There was too much pressure on the band to live up to the standard they supposedly set themselves with In the city, and I think even if they had replaced ‘London Traffic’ with ‘That’s Entertainment’, the record would still have been torn to shreds. So who does the album hold with a little distance between it and the early days of The Jam?

This is the modern world had a lot to live for. With their debut, The Jam had managed to galvanize followers of a booming mod revival in the midst of the punk era. Their follow-up, however, looked like a ramshackle collection of punk fakes, containing none of the songwriting prowess that had earned Paul Weller comparisons to The Kink’s Ray Davies. Instead, tracks like “London Girl” and “Standards” sounded too stereotypical, as if Weller had stumbled upon a man selling punk songs in the back of a van and decided to get a good deal.

Looking back, This is the modern world seems to exist firmly in the realms of the tired punk cliché, despite the fact that the genre was just starting to flourish. “We don’t need anyone to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong,” Weller shouts, though it is as if he’s reading a paperback titled Naughty things to say for today’s punks. But I think the real tragedy is that the songs aren’t that bad actually; they just got stuffed into an ill-fitting zoot suit. Songs such as “Life From A Window” are surprisingly melodic and harmonically complex, but have not been allowed to rest in their true form. Instead, they were forced to adhere to formulas created not in the studio but in cramped pubs.

But – and it’s a big but – I think This is the modern world, on the whole, has more advantages than In the city never done. In terms of variety, The Jam’s debut album suffers from a severe case of tunnel vision. Their second, however, contains undertones of soul, R&B, punk, and Byrds-era psychedelia. While the songs that make up In the city know exactly what they are, I think a large part of that is because they are the product of a style of writing that doesn’t belong to Weller but to The Who. At least This is the modern world sees The Jam attempting to formulate a style of their own.

Whatever you do with This is the modern world it was an essential springboard that led The Jam to some of their most beloved hits. The whole benefit of hindsight, I guess. These original reviews obviously didn’t know what was going on around the corner, but looking back, it seems obvious that without songs like “Tonight At Noon” and “Life From A Window” they wouldn’t have written “That’s Entertainment” or “Pretty Green” later down the line.

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