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Music

The making of Paul Weller: Why The Style Council were better than The Jam

Out of all the pop acts that rose through the ranks during the 1980s, none has caused as much arched revisionism as The Style Council, who have gone from au courant to bête noire in the space of a 40 year period. In fact, Paul Weller’s desire to form The Style Council stemmed from a yearning to experiment with sound and form, in the hope of capturing a new structure of music The Jam didn’t permit him to.

Indeed, what’s so refreshing about The Style Council was their decision to cast off the shackles of fame, plunging headfirst into the dark waters of obscurity, creating a body of work that was exhilarating in its design and shimmering in its philosophy. The more they veered from the conventions of ordinary pop – no matter how extraordinary The Jam were – the better they sounded, safe in the knowledge that their convictions could carry them to a place of greater resonance and purpose.

From the barrelling ‘Shout To The Top’ to the lushly presented piano paintings Mick Talbot curated for the band, The Style Council were the epitome of artful ambition, never rejecting the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and play. But for Weller, the presentation of the music was never an extreme unto itself, but a literal representation of where he was, and how he turned the work into something more tangible and malleable for his listeners to aspire to.

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Even more incredibly, the songs were deeply commercial and always managed to convey a sense of aspiration, never delving too heavily into the realm of obscure pop. They had avant-garde leanings, but they weren’t avant-garde unto themselves but preferred to bring their knowledge of outlandish pop into the realm of the accessible market.

“It was totally liberating. However much I enjoyed The Jam, towards the end I just felt the constraints of being in a big band. I’d had enough of it,” Weller told Esquire. “I wanted to have the freedom to use different musicians. Have the core of me and Mick and then bring in different people and try to make every record sound different. It was the polar opposite of being in The Jam.”

After years fronting The Jam, Weller enjoyed being part of a musical collective, that only grew stronger the more people entered in and out of the mix. Their sound was a hybrid, curating a mosaic of work that let the musicians chip in and out of the backdrop to let musicians allow their perspectives, prospects and elements of truth into the mix. Weller seemed more comfortable working with a collection of hot-shot studio musicians, but he was happy to play on stage, none less grand than Live Aid, which was a hefty compendium of artistry and studio technique, none trying to outplay the other in their lead to succession.

“I have no recollections of the day at all. I was so nervous I was besides myself,” says Weller. “At the end I was just shoved on stage and stood there like a dick. I was well out of my fucking depth. I was never cut out to be a superstar and I’ve no desire to be one, so I was inhabiting a world I really didn’t feel part of.”

Confessions of A Pop Group demonstrated the band’s yearning for richly produced textures, the album made a concerted effort to show the real Weller, for all his flairs, feelings and contradictions intact. He was growing as a lyricist, bolstered by Talbot’s cinematic keyboard playing, both of them tuning into the rhythms and beats of the other musician.

The Jam were geared towards mass appeal, but The Style Council was meant to be a portal into the romantic, as Weller sang his opinion to the world at large. ‘You’re The Best Thing’ emerged from the bottom of his soul, delving into a territory that was achingly raw and human, capturing the vocalist at his most sincere and sophisticated. There was weightlessness to his singing that deviated from the orchestral flourishes that emerged in the music at various junctures. He was following his heart, letting the words sing for themselves, as he merely operated as the mouthpiece for a large revolution.

And then he left the band, keenly aware that the band proved to be his last creative portal. It was important for him to create a new lyrical voice that represented his new standing in life, now that his 20s were behind him. But in its own way, he was growing more interested in the work at hand, bringing a sense of pathos to the work, where he was once guided by muscle and reform. And once The Style Council had left the exit, they were happy to let the audience bring their truth to theirs.

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