From political passion to pop

Issue 

Live Wood
By Paul Weller
Polygram
Reviewed by Arun Pradhan

I'll come clean from the start. I was a Paul Weller fan.

How could you not be? After all, he was the driving force behind the Jam.

Throughout the late '70s, this band captured the anger and passion of a generation. With songs like "News of the World", they warned of the lies that people were being fed in the establishment media. "Start" expressed the pure exhilaration of finding someone else who sees and cares about what is happening in the world.

The Jam were high on anger and low on analysis. It's one thing to see how stupid and unjust things are; the next step is to understand it. There were some signs of deeper understanding with songs like "The Money go Round". The childlike lyrics stripped capitalism down to its basics and exposed it for the inhumane system that it is.

But despite a few such highlights, it was not until Weller moved on to the Style Council that he took that next step. They weren't as loud as the Jam, their music often falling into the fuzzy area of "jazz" rather than the hard rock that fans would be used to, but they lost none of their anger.

The quote on the back of their 1984 album Cafe Bleu from Jean Paul Marat, "an 18th century visionary", gave an inkling of where the Style Council were coming from: "Don't be taken in when they say that there's no inequality worth speaking of and no more reason to fight ..."

Though many of the tracks seemed to be explorations in music, with no lyrics at all, their politics was particularly notable in such songs as "Here's one that got away" and "A Gospel".

It was not until 1985, with the release of Our Favourite Shop, that the Style Council's politics and musical ability peaked. Songs such as "Homebreakers" and "Come to Milton Keynes" described an England in the midst of social decay and unemployment. The gentle keyboard riffs of Mick Talbot tend to flow around you, often hiding the quite shocking lyrics.

Our Favourite Shop also features one of the best ballads to the socialist movement you're ever likely to find in "Internationalist". Songs like "A Stone's Throw Away" err on the ultraleft side, but combined with "Walls come tumbling down", the album becomes truly inspirational.

Still political but not quite as inspirational was their 1988 album Confessions of a pop group. It certainly had a more cynical and frustrated edge, reflected in their "love" song "The Story of Someone's Shoe", in which they tell us "It's lust or loneliness — but never love".

Even those who agree with this might find the cynicism wearing by the time we reach "Life at a Top People's Health Farm". This shows Weller's frustration at the English working class, at its apparent passivity despite poverty and repression.

This cynicism was a sign of things to come. Weller and Talbot went their different ways, Talbot taking his amazing keyboard skills to the band Galliano, and Weller somehow losing his politics on the way to going solo.

Live Wood is a collection of live recordings from his solo career. Notably absent are the passion and anger of the Jam and the analysis of the Style Council. What's left is a mediocre pop album. Musically some songs are interesting, and I'm sure "Bull Rush" and "Sun Flower" will receive a lot of radio airplay. But with no drive and no insight, it amounts to little more than background music.

I'm afraid Weller sets himself up with the last song on the album, "Has my fire really gone out?". Yes, Paul it has. But at least when he was on fire, he burnt with a blaze.

Internationalist

If you believe you have an equal share

In the whole wide world and all it bears

An' that your share is no less or more than

Your fellow sister and brother man

Then take this knowledge and with it insist

Declare yourself — an internationalist!

If you lay no blame at the feet of next door

An' realise the struggle is also yours

An' that without the strength of us altogether

The world as it stands will remain forever

Then take this knowledge and make it exist!

Rise up as — an internationalist!

If your eyes see deeper than the colour of skin

Then you must also see we are the same within

An' the rights you expect are the rights of all

Now it's up to you to lead the call

That liberty must come at the top of the list

Stand proud as — an internationalist!

If you see the mistake of having bosses at all

You will also see how they all must fall

For under this system there is no such thing

As the democracy our leaders would have us sing

No more time for lies now as only truth must persist

Rise up now and declare yourself — an internationalist!

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.