When Paul Weller dissolved the Jam and started the Style Council, the death-defying stylistic leap was one many of his hard-core adherents would never forgive. The Jam were coarse and self-consciously proletarian, Weller’s rasping bark venting the frustrated ire of his generation. All this urban grit and rage and salt-of-the-earth authenticity, so one hoary old interpretation would have it, was sandblasted away when the Modfather capitulated, gave in to the silky, vacant sheen of yuppie-era consumerism and was swallowed up by the anodyne lift-muzak that scored that Thatcher decade. Obviously, this was an extremely selective oversimplification. Politically at least, Weller had done anything but sell out. It was The Jam, it’s very worth remembering, that started out being vocally Conservative, had voted for Thatcher in 1979, and patriotically draped themselves in the Union Jack – albeit in a calculated move to distinguish themselves from the legions of anti-establishment punk acts stomping around at the time.
Later, Jam-era Weller became one of the government’s most prominent critics in popular music. But it was the Style Council that was the angrier, more staunchly political of the two groups. The Council were ardently socialist, cosmopolitan vegetarians sporting Armani macintoshes who did benefit gigs for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They were also integral to Red Wedge, the ultimately doomed initiative to oust Mrs T by encouraging young people to vote Labour in the 1987 general election.
Undeniably, the music itself often left a lot to be desired. The Style Council performed an eccentric but radio-friendly melange of smooth jazz, plastic soul, and electro-pop, replete with swooning string arrangements and parping synths. The result could sometimes be slick bordering on the oleaginous. But Weller was still occasionally capable of captivating subtlety – ‘The Whole Point of No Return’, from the Council’s ’84 album Café Bleu, sees him playing unaccompanied fingerpicking jazz in the manner of a pop-inflected Sussexian Wes Montgomery, the soothing melody belying astute lyrical observations about the class-ridden state of Thatcher’s Britain, and a fairly radical call to rise up and take back ‘the property of every man’.
(And here’s a live version, with the added bonus of some nice tabla drums)