Thursday, August 14, 2008

"The Whole Point of No Return" /
The Style Council

Imagine standing on the rim of a swimming pool, knowing full well the water's cold --do you ease yourself in slowly, or just dive in? That's how I am about Style Council. I've been listening to a lot of Paul Weller's solo work the last couple of weeks, and completely grooving on it -- but I'm still mystified by how he got from the Jam to where his sound is today. I know Style Council lay in between; it must hold the answer. But jeez, that's cold water to dive into.

Why do so many people snigger when they mention Style Council? I was off in some other universe in 1982, when Weller broke up the Jam to launch this new project, but it must have seemed like heresy at time, one of punk's seminal voices jettisoning punk for a groovy soul/jazz hybrid. Apparently some people have never forgiven him. I say, GET OVER IT. From what I've listened to -- mostly those annoying 30-second iTunes teasers -- some of this is pretty delicious stuff. Okay, so it's slickly produced, as opposed to the raw energy of the Jam; and apparently the lyrics got more and more leftist as time went on, which was a lose-lose thing -- he irritated lefties with his Europop glossiness, and he irritated jazz fans with his political whinges. I can imagine the whole scenario. But still.

Well, now here's a riddle. I tried to Google the lyrics to this song, and absolutely every lyrics site offers the same set of lyrics -- completely different words from what I hear on the track I've downloaded from Our Favourite Shop. Here I'm listening to this lovely jazz samba with Paul Weller musing existentially about life, and instead the lyrics sites insist it's a bitter political rant against class oppression. Was there some later version Weller did? I did notice that a couple sites also list the song as recorded by Robert Wyatt, and from a quick Wikipedia research, I gather that Wyatt -- an eccentric wheelchair-bound English rock-jazz maverick -- sometimes records cover versions of other artists' songs with lyrics changed to convey his own Communist beliefs. Are these other lyrics something Wyatt imposed on the song? Obviously all the sites just picked it up from each other, without anyone actually listening to the records (which just proves what I've always suspected about those sites).

But deciphering the lyrics for myself, I get something romantic and not at all pretentious. It hits a sweet samba groove, underlaid with Latin percussion, a delicately plucked Spanish guitar, and Mick Talbot playing some shimmery vibraphones. The scene he sets is all carioca coolness, with shining harbor lights, soft breezes, and a "beckoning sea." The seaside scene sends him into an introspective mood, brooding about "the rushing winds of age and time" and "the promise that all could be mine." Seduced by that samba beat, he admits to feel tempted "to close my eyes and feel the fall / To not resist them to the fore / Oh it's easy, so so easy."

But he's not going gentle into that good night, as he declares in the end of the second verse: "I'm not prepared to live the lie / To shut my mouth and just say yes / To make a vow and then confess / It's too easy, much too easy." It's not clear to me what he's resisting -- could be marriage, could be political selling-out -- but in the last verse, he declares "With all the power that I possess / A faith alone shall stand the test / To live my life as I see best." I guess if some honey-throated Brazilian were singing this song, the defiant up-yours ending wouldn't work, but Weller's peculiarly husky, ever-so-slightly strangled-sounding voice makes it seem perfectly natural.

And in the end, the lyrics don't matter so much -- it's that syncopated Latin beat, the fantastical vibes, and the knife-like Weller croon cutting through it all. I'm still on the edge of the pool, but I have a feeling I'm diving in any day now -- I'll just have to buy all those Style Council albums, and give into the dark side.


Uncle E said...

The Style Council albums were pretty spoty, but...BUT...they did release some fantastic singles. Long Hot Summer, Speak Like A Child, My Ever Changing Moods, Shout To The Top, Walls Come Tumbling Down...all great. I tend to prefer his solo stuff, even over the Jam, but I believe he really started branching out with the SC.
Nice one!

Holly A Hughes said...

I find it amusing that the whole punk aesthetic was supposed to be about doing what you damn well pleased and f*ck the establishment, and then the punk establishment acted pissed that Weller went off and did what he damn well pleased. I'm sure there an object lesson there somewhere...

Anonymous said...

Punk had long since died a miserable death by the time THe Style Council started up, there wasn;t much of an eastablishment to care anout what Weller did next. And The Clash were always WAY above The Jam in pure-punks hitlists for selling out.

That said, anyone that sniggers on mention the SC deserves a punch in the face. They made some fantastic records, and Weller was never more into experimenting or indulgence (both good and bad) before or after this band.

Mick Talot is the unsung hero of the band, being very much a muse for Weller in the band (there were rumours at the time that they were more than friends, rumours long since buried by a UK music press who now idolise Weller).

If you can be bothered, get the boxset, its got EVERYTHING and more, including the full unreleased final SC album.

Holly A Hughes said...

I'm sure I will, in the end. Though at $75, last I checked, it's hardly an impulse buy!

BTW, I agree, The Clash were the band that really seemed like the apogee of punk; the Jam never totally felt like a punk band to me. All the same, some folks I know speak of Style Council with all the scorn one usually reserves for old girlfriends who dumped you. There's got to be some subtect there!