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Various Artists
Fire And Skill: The Songs Of The Jam
Sony/Epic


The Jam was a small portion of history in which Paul Wellerís British soul, punk, and jazz influences came together. Whatever caused them to separate, we may never know. But for a brief moment, something pure was formed. Something greater than the sum of itís parts. But like Cat Stevens, Paul abandoned the music that he had created, leaving it for the fans to own and cultivate, preferring instead to become a curmudgeonly old fart Rod Stewart clone.

"Carnation"- Liam Gallagher & Steve Craddock--Paul Weller never wore the Beatles influence on his sleeve. So this is a little like hearing an Elvis impersonator sing the Cramps. Anemic bubblegum from the Oasis frontman. The production from Craddock is the most engaging aspect of this number. Itís very slick, and layered, and lacking in grit. The tempo slowed down enough to drain the life out of the song (and the listener.) "Because I am the greed and fear and every ounce of hate in you."

"Start"-The Beastie Boys & Miho Hatori--Aggravatingly cleverÖfor the first 6 measures. The boys completely rework this tune. By removing the vocals and subtlety, theyíve created a stylized caricature of an important song. Billy Preston would be proud of the organ holding the groove together. The plastic sound on the mouth organ (not harmonica) replaces the vocal line, and cheapens the feel. Very cute if they had written it. Anyone remember the Devo easy listening album? More of an homage to Beck, really. Miho is sublimely out of place reminding us what song we are hearing. This is a Gap-ready interpretation of a manic. "What you give is what you get." Nil.

"Thatís Entertainment"-Reef--Apparently, no one told these cats that the tradition of these endeavors is to drag the song to a screeching start. Leave it to the lesser-known band to actually add energy to a classic. Of all the nerve! They must have had the audacity to listen to the message and the emotion of the band. All the elements are in place. The bitterness, the immediacy, the youthful outrage are on board this runaway train. Reef blasts through with more concern for purity than precision. It may not be pretty, but it is beautiful. Add this band to your checklist.

"The Gift"-Heavy Stereo--A difficult song to address and make it work. Heavy Stereo fearlessly grabs this song with the sort of desperation that someone is going to steal it out from under them and make a mockery of the Jam. No trademark Slade or T-Rex comparisons here, this may be the best song they ever did. And since Gem is now part of Oasis, this will stand as his finest work.

"Art School"-Silversun--Silversun forego the Urge Overkill 70ís consumer sound. They opt instead for dirty garage punk. Nice surf drums appropriated from Iggyís "Lust For Life." Vocals arenít quite as adolescent as Blink182.

"English Rose"-Everything But The Girl--A surprisingly adequate rendition of this ballad. Ben Wattís guitar work is engaging. Tracey Thornís voice is intriguing, if wandering and off-key. Listenable, without being an album buyer.

"Going Underground"-Buffalo Tom--The liner notes bill the Buffaloes as Bostonís finest band. Even though Morphine are no longer, Tom is nowhere near next in line. Drudgery and complacency drip out the corners of this jig. Like a high school band weaving side to side here. This awful version slowed down to Cowboy Junkies speed has the singer struggling to breathe. Weller puts a lot of words in, thatís why he spit these lyrics out with abandon. So why does Janowitz even bother? If he doesnít want to sing, he should be hanging around downtown with Marcy Playground. Sounds as though he has a million other things heíd rather be doing than this song. Absolutely no heart. "Some people might say my life is in a rut" Yep.

"The Butterfly Collector"-Garbage--Shirley (the other Manson), whose presence here raised the most suspicion, defies logic. Altering the rhythm of this bitter, pointed tale would seem like a travesty, but it works perfectly. The slow drive catches you nodding agreeably. Gives it the feel of "Personal Jesus" until the bridge kicks in. Darkly produced and executed for the listener to observe from a higher vantage. This track was not recorded specifically for this compilation, which is probably why it is the most enjoyable dish here. Interesting note that they ripped off The American Breed, and now the new breed.

"This Is The Modern World"-Ben Harper--Harper performing one of the signature Jam pieces had the potential for greatness. Benís guitar work is as fine as ever. However, in an odd turn of events, he has managed to suck every bit of venom out of the vocal delivery. It brings to mind Mel Tormeís version of "Superstition." He couldnít have listened to the pitiful finished track before it was released. Pale and toothless. I hope you donít give two fucks about this review.

"Town Called Malice"-Gene--Itís no wonder that Morrisey has taken to them. The music is tight and driven, but the Martin Rossiters warblings float over it like a detached entity. Like a wimpier Michael Stipe, if thatís possible. "Town Without Pity" would have been more appropriate, as Gene sounds like a nod to Pitney. "I could go on for hours and I probably will."

"To Be Someone"-Noel Gallagher--Noel has a much more interesting voice than his brother. Obviously a heartfelt rendering of sentiments he otherwise is unable to express safely in his own words. When he gets out of control, he sounds a bit like Ozzie, which actually isnít a bad thing. But the tortured artist thing has gone too far.

"No One In The World"-Paul Weller--Answering the age-old question of what the artist thinks of all this rubbish, Weller adds a hidden track of his own to the bonfire. Recorded with the Jam, this rarity has him sounding like Bowie after an all nighter and 3 packs. Which is pretty good, to be sure.

Where is the nod to the great songwriting of Bruce Foxton? Where is the steam, the bite, the beat surrender, the point? R.I.P the Jam. Forget the Style Council. Screw Oasis. God bless Bruce Foxton. And God damn Paul Weller.

Around the turn of the 9th decade, music aficionados began to honor their forebears with well-intentioned offerings, which we know as tribute albums. While a noble thought, the results have been spotty at best. As parents are judged by the offspring they produce, admirers are often a reflection of the icon. These packages if not executed well, may turn away potential new fans from the object of affection as well as repulsing the die-hard fans of said artiste. And yet, every fan is curious to hear different interpretations of the songs they love. If we quit buying the crap, they will quit making it.

-Ewan Wadharmi

Track Listing:

  1. "Carnation"- Liam Gallagher & Steve Craddock
  2. "Start"-The Beastie Boys & Miho Hatori
  3. "Thatís Entertainment"-Reef
  4. "The Gift"-Heavy Stereo
  5. "Art School"-Silversun
  6. "English Rose"-Everything But The Girl
  7. "Going Underground"-Buffalo Tom
  8. "The Butterfly Collector"-Garbage
  9. "This Is The Modern World"-Ben Harper
  10. "Town Called Malice"-Gene
  11. "To Be Someone"-Noel Gallagher

Bonus Track: "No One In The World"-Paul Weller


Mike Doughty



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