Album Of The Week - The Style Council - Our Favourite Shop
Keeping in with our eighties theme takes us all the way back to 1985, a pretty damn good year for music, and Paul Weller's Style Council's second album Our Favourite Shop.
Following the break-up of The Jam in 1982 and The Gift, Weller endeavoured to write what he would coin as 'more soulful' music. In that musical journey, he'd form The Style Council and take himself in a completely new musical direction. Loud guitar solos would be replaced by refined brass sections, whilst the gruff voice of Foxton would be replaced by a myriad of backing singers.
Homebreakers, the album's opener, provides with the perfect vibe that sets the rest of the record. It's five minutes of pure brilliance, featuring a defined soul in overall sound, substantiated by both the horn sections and Mick Talbot on Hammond Organ that provide a great backing to Weller's deep vocal. Come To Milton Keynes also features the Hammond Organ during his introduction, but is a much more upbeat and lighter tune when compared to the likes of Homebreakers. It opts for both strings and horns, as well as a steady drum beat, courtesy of Steve White. Despite its happy tune, Come To Milton Keynes is more overtly political than anything The Jam ever produced - like The Jam's A Town Called Malice, it's a deliberate attack on the idea of 'Middle England' and the Thatcherite principles present in the eighties.
Internationalists is particularly funky, featuring a rocksteady drum beat in part, and this up-tempo guitar riff that's a little reminiscent of Huey Lewis & The News' I Want A New Drug, as is the lyrical structure. It's undoubtedly one of the record's best offerings, making for compulsive foot-tapping at the very least. On the contrary, A Stone's Throw Away is very much like Weller's own Eleanor Rigby - there's an overpowering string backing that, when coupled with Weller's solemn vocal, changes the vibe and pace of the album completely. It becomes a little more refined and takes a step back from the faster start.
The Stand Up Comic's Instructions fusing a Hammond Organ and a spoken word poem that's actually vocalled by Lenny Henry. Interestingly, looking back at this from the perspective of modern-day observational humour, Henry's words evoke a sense of the old seventies comedians, pioneered by the likes of Bernard Manning. It makes you curl up a little with lines like "Tell 'em the one about the friggin' queer/Do the one that always works,/'Bout the lazy blacks that don't like work." and "Do that one that never fails/'Bout the gang of white thugs and the Asian male,/And once you got 'em, they'll be with you!" It's fascinating how humour has changed so much in the past forty years.
The Lodgers is one of the other majorly political songs on Our Favourite Shop, featuring a duet from both Weller and then wife Dee C. Lee, who had, quite famously, previously worked with Wham!. It's a great song with four minutes of satire in part, combined with a Nile Rodgers-esque riff backing it and a thumping bassline. Walls Come Tumbling Down! takes us back to Homebreakers by way of overall sound, but instead fusing it with a vocal that could be best suited to a track like The Eton Rifles on the verse. It's one of the tightest and most complete songs on the album and goes down as one of my favourites.
On some editions of the album, you'd have Shout To The Top! added as a bonus and since it's on the version we've got, it seems wrong not to discuss one of The Style Council's catchiest songs. In reality, it's that performance on Top Of The Pops that got me into The Style Council, obviously many years later than its original broadcast. Personally speaking, Shout To The Top! is their best effort, fusing a jazzy bassline with great drumming patterns, a recurring piano sound to die for and one of Weller's best vocals in his career.
If you're on the search for something with a mixture of fast-paced funk and slowed-down soul, then Our Favourite Shop ticks all the right boxes. Arguably, this is better than any of his works with The Jam and I'd go along with that. As much as I love the likes of In The City and Sound Affects, if I'm honest, Weller's work with The Style Council just has a little more substance and swagger. It's pretty much perfect.
More musical magnificence to come next week!