Paul Weller’s Wilderness Months

There’s a lot of the practice of gratitude at the moment. The idea is that you list reasons to be grateful each day whether it’s a nice meal or a beautiful sunset or the smile of a child whatever with the aim of orientating your thoughts towards the positive. I’ve done it myself, it works but sometimes it’s a bit of struggle to find anything particularly worthy about the day. There is however always one reason we have to be thankful, and that is is that the Sex Pistols never made a second (proper) record. It’s not a lot but some days it’s all I’ve got.’ Never Mind the Bollocks’ found the band pretty much at the end of their creativity, they didn’t have a lot more to give. Fortunately, they split up before 1978 got going, no more. We were safe from any more Sid Vicious songs.

The Pistols were spared the agony of the second album. It’s a well-documented fact, a band spends 2-3 years collating material for their first record and then have a couple of months before someone is going to suggest they record a second, they cobble together a few bits and pieces left over from their creative years, chuck in a couple of covers and hope no one notices too much. Then its time for the ‘difficult’ third album…

The Dammed having been first out of the traps were, naturally, the first to record a follow up. It’s wasn’t as good as their debut apparently, the critics weren’t happy, the band split up. Like wise the Stranglers found that people had less affection for their sophomore product, they were made of sterner stuff and would soldier on. Ditto the Clash had polished up their performance, ‘Give em Enough Rope’ might not be the best clash record but it was OK, they needed to do better for their next record.
Paul Weller has turned 60, how did that happen? Weller was always the young kid on the block. I’ve already covered the early days of the Jam

But in 1978 Weller was struggling. The first jam LP is pretty impressive for energy, speed and power but also had the benefit of a few decent songs. By 1978 though Weller was burnt out. It’s not really clear why but the Weller pool of inspiration was running dry. It’s easy and understandable to forget that once the Jam was about more than Weller. Bass player Bruce Foxton aspired to be McCartney to Weller’s Lennon and so a standalone single ‘News of the World’ had been released while we waited for Weller to recover his muse. NOTW was a Foxton composition, it was OK but it wasn’t great. Neither was the new long player ‘This is the Modern World’ which featured a couple of great Weller songs, a few more OK Weller songs, a couple less OK Foxton songs and a cover of ‘In the Midnight Hour’, these were the days of vinyl remember, as long a you could get near the 30 min mark you had an album.

More confusion was to come, the band supported Blue Oyster Cult in the states which wasn’t really a match made in heaven. The band then started on the ‘difficult’ third record apparently recording more Foxton songs. Producer Chris Parry had the good sense to send the band away to try harder.

This was the tipping point for the band’s, and significantly Weller’s career. There was a bit of treading water as the band made a decent cover of the Kink’s ‘David Watts’ which was backed with the more revolutionary ‘A Bomb in Wardour Street’ Weller finally showed a glimpse of genius when he came up with the iconic ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ which was enough to lift the band up for their ‘All Mod Con’s’ LP. Listening to that record again after all these years it’s probably as flawed as ‘This is the Modern World’ but there is a sense that Weller is now going somewhere interesting. It was as if his own success inspired Weller to reach for the stars. A follow up single ‘When You’re Young’ confirmed that he had seized the moment, then there was ‘Eaton Rifles’ and ‘Start’ and the anticipation that the next Jam single was going to be just great whatever it was. For a couple of years the Jam were the best British rock band still alive.

It had been a close thing. Now he’s an elder statesman of rock and the BBC put on a Weller at 60 show for him. We’re not really interested in a Captain Sensible at 60 or a Pete Shelley at 60 or even a Mick Jones at 60, neither, of course, did we delight in a Bruce Foxton at 60 broadcast. They were all once contenders but only Weller has made the grade despite the fact that his music has been pretty much the same for the last 20 years. Like Springsteen or Neil Young or even Bob Dylan it’s just enough now that Weller exists.

But did that happen?

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