The Complete Adventures Of The Style Council
Rarely has a band been so closely associated with an era as The Style Council, only to find themselves apparently discredited by history as soon as their time is over....
Sort of. But for those who long for the return of naive ambition and righteous soul in pop, plus a few nice fashion crimes to keep things amusing, this five-CD box set boasts the unenviable achievement of collecting virtually everything Paul Weller and friends recorded in their short lifespan, including the long-lost, unlamented 'House' album from 1989 which Polydor refused to release, effectively ending the band.
CD1 reminds us why The Style Council still deserve a small but significant place in the pop pantheon. Here they sound like a logical progression from The Jam's 'The Gift' album, all Mo(d)town vitality, with Weller's post-punk urgency mellowing out of the three-piece rock straitjacket.
The upbeat stuff, like 'Solid Bond In Your Heart' and 'My Ever Changing Moods', still sounds euphoric and gospelly without too much pretension, while the smoochers are blissful and summery. They even manage to be funky without trying too hard - unlike on CD2. While it contains gems like 'Groovin' (You're The Best Thing)' and 'Shout To The Top', it's peppered with repugnant white funk like 'Big Boss Groove' and the excruciating 'Soul Deep' that are just trying way too hard. Likewise the politics, including a rap about the miner's strike and a ballad called 'Ghosts Of Dachau', which you can't quite take seriously in this cynical age.
It gets worse on CD3, which plumbs the depths of jazz interludes, the honking 'slap' bass, happy-clappy 'rhythm' and syrupy soul being impossible to stomach second time round.
They do, however, rediscover something of a plot on CD4, in which elegant piano ballads like 'It's A Very Deep Sea' and 'The Cost Of Loving' are evidence of a fine songwriting instinct.
It would be easy to assume that CD5, the infamous 'House' album, is a comic masterpiece unrivalled even by the ear-licking video. But in fact it's not that bad. 'Promised Land' is engaging enough piano house, and the update of 'Long Hot Summer' is as good as the original. It's only when they let some Farley Jackmaster Funk type vocalist loose on it (at least, I fucking hope it's not Weller) that it really loses it.
And after all six or so hours of such madness, you may detect a theme. The Style Council, not unlike The Jam, still sound like a very good singles band. Delve deeper than that if you wish, but I warn you, oh discerning '90s child - it's not always a pretty sight.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday