Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Style Council ~ The Style Council Collection (hits comp)

(No official website.)
Style: pop rock, jazz, experimental, British
Label: Spectrum Music
Year: 1996
Home: England

Members: Paul Weller ~ vocals/guitar/bass/synthesizer/drum programming
Mick Talbot ~ keyboards/organ

Additional: Steve White, Nick Brown ~ drums
Tracie Young, Dee C. Lee, Lenny Henry ~ b. vocals
Hilary Seabrook, Billy Chapman, Barbara Snow, Stewart Prosser, David Defries, Mike Mower, Chris Lawrence, Patrick Grundy-White, Steve Dawson, Clark Kent ~ horns
Anne Stephenson, Charlie Buchanan, Jocelyn Pook, Audrey Riley ~ strings
Chris Bostock, Camelle Hinds, Kevin Miller ~ bass
Gary Wallis, Little Joo Ruocco ~ percussion
Helen Turner ~ piano

Guests: Ben Watt ~ guitar
Tracey Thorn ~ b. vocals


For those who'd rocked out to the songs of Paul Weller when he was with the Jam the 1983 debut of the SC was probably a surprise, maybe even at times hard to swallow as the band moved farther & farther from the Jam if not itself as it grew from a duo to a community. The fact that the new directions Weller took with keyboardist Mick Talbot largely fell him from his iconic heights before their 1990 break-up, to be rescued by a solo career, & that the Jam continues to be respected while the SC has largely faded into 80's new wave history says a lot about this decade of his career & the SC itself. But, in terms of showing different sides to an artist does the SC, intentionally or not, says a lot. The SC saw Weller move from often experimental 70's punk to commercially polished 80's pop more akin to Crowded House or Simply Red with lots of jazz, soul & R&B elements taking over. Though, these directions really shouldn't have been much of a suprise as the Jam had been introducing similiar elements periodically, but they'd always kept a non-commercially friendly sound underneath it. The SC is everything but edgy. Today, the SC sounds dated with its heavy keyboard/synthesizer against drum machines sound, while Weller's soft singing & occasional falsetto cries bring up uncomfortable Erasure comparisons. But, the later use of backing vocals & R&B dynamics right out of the Stax catalog puts the SC ahead of their time. Released today the SC might actually find a whole new audience, let alone be an inspiration for the growing groups of wannabe DJ's who will find delight in the layed rhythms & classic textures that might only be found these days in David Byrne & Sting. But, where the SC becomes experimental they also suffer from over-indulgence, as too many musicians clutter the music & surprisingly take the intimacy & life out of it. The SC's best stuff is their first couple albums that are just a simple keyboard focused duo & not a duo plus lots of friends with lots of instruments & lots of ideas. The Style Council Collection is a good an introduction to the big picture from beginning to end. It includes almost equal bits from all the albums, sans their swan song Modernism: A New Decade which was rejected by the label in 1989 for its then ahead of time deep house sound & not issued until a 1998 box set, plus some obscure/B-side tracks making this not quite a greatest hits collection. The tracks are kept in chronological allowing one to gently hear the moving of the SC into new territories. It even gives the album an organically developed climactic nature as the songs move from simple to complicated. One can almost hear Wellers mind move through different styles & ideas. Also a bonus with turning to this collection versus the individual studio albums is that here the wanderings that drag down the music are gone & what remains is a good chunk of the cream of the crop, plus a little bit of everything to pick & choose from. Here one gets the simple keyboard heavy band of the earlier days alongside the full-blown big band productions of the later days. But, it also means that some will prefer whole chunks of the album over other chunks & for many fans that means the first part of the album. Ironically, the later SC, which is the most commercial sounding, is the more politically minded one lyrically, though today few will tune into the anti-Thatcher political leanings as the context has long come & gone. There are still a few odd wanderings that could be done away with as they upset the flow, such as the lost groove of the live B-side "Big Boss Groove", the overly international "The Paris Match" which features French cabaret with a French verse & particularly "A Stones Throw Away" features Weller singing with only a string quartet. All of these do, though, show how far Weller was interested & willing to experiment ... even if the later does sound like a less poetic take on Elvis Costello's recording with the Brodsky Quartet. Barring these few hurdles The Style Council Collection focuses in on what SC did best, which is soft late night ballads. The best songs are the first few on the album from their debut release (for example "Speak Like A Child", "You're The Best Thing") & in general include the simple arrangements that are often just an acoustic guitar with Weller singing softly over it ("Headstart For Happiness", "It Came To Pieces In My Hand", "Ghosts Of Dachau", "The Whole Point Of No Return" & "Down In The Seine"). These ballads make the SC worth the listen. The SC is music Weller could never make with the Jam, but these acoustic moments are the real contrast for fans & historians to ponder over. The Jam was music for clubs & teenagers. This is music for lovers & late nights.



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