Oct 052011

Will Your Mystery Date Be a Dream or a Dud?

Sure, this week’s Mystery Date was an easy one: that was Stiff Little Fingers, doing the folk song “Love of the Common People,” from their 1982 initial farewell album, Here Now… Many of you guessed this if you stuck around long enough for singer Jake Burns to fall into his typical “Joe Strummer on steroids” delivery. I am only disappointed that Townsman mwall didn’t chime in on this date. For a guy with strong, spartan tastes in music, he’s always surprised me by his top-to-bottom love for the band’s debut, Inflammable Material, an album I’ve always wanted to like more than I ever can beyond the amazing “Suspect Device” and “Alternative Ulster.” I was curious to hear his take on this recording—and maybe even acknowledge that I’d long ago seen beyond the facade of this band and peered into the mediocrity of their proto-Green Day track. “Brother,” I hoped he’d say, “I’ve got to give it to you for calling bullshit on these guys for all those years.”

I remember Townsman andyr or chickenfrank owning this album way back when and me thinking it was a “pretty good change of pace” for the band, the same way I thought The Ramones‘ poppy Pleasant Dreams was a welcome and long-overdue offspeed pitch to their limited repertoire. Over the years I rarely listened to their copy of that album again, but I continued to tell myself they had something extra in their tiny creative satchel. The other day I revisited this album, and boy was it lame. It sounded like they started listening to all the subpar Jam albums from the end of their run and trying to ape Weller’s moves rather than The Clash‘s.

There was no way they could have kept up with aping Clash records after Give ‘Em Enough Rope, so poor-man’s Jam was probably a reasonable career option. However, all the things that always bugged me about most of their first two albums—the blatant political pose, the complete lack of originality and/or humor, and especially the sense that “Shoot, given a manager and a producer my high school band could have made a record as mediocre as Nobody’s Heroes!”—remained. In retrospect, it’s no Pleasant Dreams.

I have another song from this album that I’d like to share with you, but it’s on my work computer at the moment. I’m too tired (and a little bummed, thanks to my Phillies losing tonight) to fire up that computer, and I’m off to a work trip to NYC all day tomorrow followed by an evening up there with Bryan Ferry, so the horn-driven, late-period “soulful” Jam-style number will have to wait. Meanwhile, enjoy the following live performance of another track from that album.


  12 Responses to “Mystery Date Revealed: Stiff Little Fingers, Weeks Before They Broke Up”

  1. misterioso

    Mod, “all the subpar Jam albums from the end of their run”? They only made 5 records. This Is the Modern World is subpar but it is their second record. The Gift is more or less subpar, I guess. Setting Sons and Sound Affects are solid, no? So…what do you mean by “all the subpar Jam albums?

    I agree with you about Pleasant Dreams, though. I don’t think I ever owned it, but I always kind of liked the songs I knew from it.

  2. I love Setting Sons (probably more than any other Jam fan I know), and although Sound Affects is “really good” in my book, it begins to show how bad the band would be. After that I count the ep with “Absolute Beginners” (ACES!), “Liza Radley” (winner) and “Funeral Pyre” (sucks) as one release; the “Town Called Malice” (brilliant!) b/w that funk workout single (horrible) as one release; then The Gift (mostly horrible), then all those send-off EPs with white covers and Capuccino Kid liner notes (mostly “ugh!”) as “all the subpar Jam albums.” Actually, I consider All Mod Cons as subpar. I’m willing to overlook their sophomore release; it’s like 12 minutes long.

  3. Happiness Stan

    Agree on Setting Sons, All Mod Cons had seemed such a giant leap (particularly after This is the Modern World, which so many of us who had been blown away by In The City tried so hard to love – I would describe it as irredeemably execrable rather than subpar, but that may be because I still remember spending a whole week’s paper round money on it on the day it was released), but AMCs was completely knocked into the shade by Setting Sons. Agree that they did little of any consequence afterwards (I owned a copy of The Gift, so I must have listened to it at least once, but have no memory of it now at all).

    But come on, Mr Mod, Funeral Pyre sucks? Surely you are mistaken, sir! I would describe it as the last truly great song in their canon, before Paul Weller went on to desecrate the good name of soul and giving birth to Mick Hucknall. That’s the thing I find least forgiveable.

  4. misterioso

    Aha. I see. Well, I think you’re all wet on All Mod Cons, but we’ve gone over that before and that’s sort of outside this discussion. “Funeral Pyre” is quite ok by me, if not quite up to the standards of their “mature” singles. I agree that The Gift and the contents of those late singles/eps/whatever are a mixed bag, but I think there’s more good than bad overall. But you know I like to look on the bright side.

  5. misterioso

    Shoot, Stan, “Absolute Beginners”/”Tales from the Riverbank,” “Town Called Malice,” “Running on the Spot,” “Ghosts,” “The Bitterest Pill” (which I gather many do not like as much as I do) all come after “Funeral Pyre.”

  6. jeangray

    There is no bright side, dude!

    I pulled out my copy of “In the City” this morn. and had a serious case of Emperor’s New Clothes. No melody, the performances, recording & engineering are way too tightly wound & there is really no groove. The only cut that stood out was “Slow Down,” and that’s jus’ because I pretty much like any version of that song. It’s no wonder that Weller broke this band up & refuses to ever do a reunion tour.

    The only folks that I’ve ever met that like the Jam also happen to be serious anglophiles. Is that the pre-requisite???

  7. Amen, Jeangray!

  8. Actually I think the first two SLF records are among the greatest straight ahead rock records period, not just punk records. The power of the guitars sounds much better, now, than much of the rest of the fast, furious, but often underpowered sound of punk. The band’s later work is more hit and miss but there are still some good songs.

    They never developed more than a little; there’s no comparison between them and The Clash on that score. But I’ll say this much: I play those first two records as much or more than I play The Clash’s only two great records (the first, and London Calling).

  9. misterioso

    (Sets down cup of Earl Grey)Cor blimey! That’s a bleedin’ lie! I oughta give you a kick in the cobbler’s for that ‘un! (Regaining composure, raises a forkful of tasty spotted dick to mouth.) Sod off, berk.

  10. Happiness Stan

    I’m probably still carrying a lot of “punk purist” baggage which colours my view of their later songs, so not being grabbed by any of those is probably all tied up with that.

    I was a snotty teenager in the UK coming from the “In The City” end of the Jam, and anything they put out had to either sound like that or be the best damn song ever written, and to their eternal credit they carried it a lot better than almost any other band of that era.

  11. Sorry I didn’t get here soon enough to play – I had Here Now on a tape for years, it is pretty crummy. Now I was able to make a good tape out of Alternative Ulster on one side and bits of Go For It and Nobody’s Hero’s on the other.

    And I can never listen to The Jam again without hearing that flat voice saying “crash crashcrash” over and over again. Thanks for nothing, RTH Labs! https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/index.php/rth-labs-investigates-rick-buckler-s-crash-cymbal/

  12. jeangray

    “crash crashcrash” fer sure!

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