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The Jam - Setting Sons - Smithers-Jones

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Published on Oct 1, 2012

Setting Sons is the fourth studio album by British band The Jam. The group's critical and commercial favour, begun with their third album, All Mod Cons, continued through this album. "The Eton Rifles" became the group's first top 10 UK hit, peaking at #3.
In contrast to its pop-oriented predecessor, this album features a much harder, tougher production, albeit with the overarching melodicism common throughout The Jam's discography. Arguably, this is the Jam's most thematically ambitious LP. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Paul Weller originally conceived Setting Sons as a concept album about three boyhood friends who later reunite as adults after an unspecified war only to discover they have grown up and apart. The concept was never fully developed, and it remains unclear which tracks were originally intended as part of the story, though it is commonly agreed that "Thick As Thieves", "Little Boy Soldiers", "Wasteland", and "Burning Sky" are likely constituents; extant Jam bootlegs feature a version of "Little Boy Soldiers" split into three separate recordings, possible evidence that the song was intended to serve as a recurring motif, with separate sections appearing between other songs on the album.
The album was musically ambitious as well. "Little Boy Soldiers" consists of several movements, reminiscent of compositions by The Kinks. "Wasteland" features the unconventional instrument of the recorder. Even more striking is Bruce Foxton's "Smithers-Jones". Widely considered the bassist's finest three minutes of songwriting, the song was originally released as the B-side to the non-LP single "When You're Young" months before the album's release, and is here redone in an all-strings arrangement, save a bit of electric guitar in the coda. According to the liner notes of the Direction Reaction Creation box set, the revamping of "Smithers-Jones" was suggested by drummer Rick Buckler.
The liner notes also imply that the album was a somewhat rushed effort, which may explain why the original underlying concept was not fully developed, as well as the inclusion of cover songs and prior releases: "Smithers-Jones" had already been released; "Heat Wave" is a cover of the Martha and the Vandellas' Motown hit. Since "The Eton Rifles" was released in advance of the LP for promotional purposes, this leaves only seven entirely new original songs on the album.
Nonetheless, the album remains one of The Jam's most critically favoured works alongside All Mod Cons and Sound Affects. The only song particularly singled out for negative criticism is the cover of "Heat Wave", which clearly owes more to The Who's arrangement than the original. As Allmusic put it, "Setting Sons often reaches brilliance and stands among The Jam's best albums, but the inclusion of a number of throwaways and knockoffs (especially the out-of-place cover of "Heat Wave" which closes the album) mars an otherwise perfect album."[3] (Nonetheless, Allmusic gave the album the full five stars.)

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