The Jam, one of the Britain's great bands, was a thick-as-thieves punk trio who bashed out mod anthems, led by the eternally boyish Paul Weller. On albums such as 1978's All Mod Cons, 1980's Sound Affects, and the 1982 live summary, Dig the New Breed, Paul Weller sang his tales of ordinary English life.Paul Weller envisioned a country of sad-eyed boys dressing up to go race their Vespa scooters through the streets... The Jam was rolled on.
Setting Sons is the fourth album by British punk/New Wave 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 their most ambitious LP. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Paul Weller conceived it as a concept album about three boyhood mates who later reunite as adults after a war to discover they had grown up and apart. This wasn't carried through to completion, and it is unclear exactly which tracks are part of the concept, though it is commonly agreed that "Thick As Thieves", "Little Boy Soldiers", "Wasteland", and "Burning Sky" are the obvious constituents, indeed there exists among bootlegs a version of "Little Boy Soldiers" split into three separate recordings which begs the idea that each part of the song had originally intended to be spread out across the album.
Beyond its lyrical ambition, which was inspired by poets such as T.S.Eliot, it had high musical aspirations. "Little Boy Soldiers" is a multi-movement pop song inspired 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 songwriting three minutes, 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.
According to those same notes, this album was a somewhat rushed affair, which may explain why the concept wasn't carried to full fruition and the noticeable lack of original material: "Smithers-Jones" had seen prior single release; "Heat Wave" is a cover of the Martha and the Vandellas' Motown hit. Further excluding "The Eton Rifles", which was released in advance of the LP to help promote its release, there are only seven all-new original songs. However, previous release All Mod Cons was similar in using previous material.
Despite this, however, it 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."Nevertheless, Allmusic gave the album the full five stars.
The Polydor Canada LP release of Setting Sons is substantially different from the original UK version, and contains 12 tracks.