After Paul Weller parted company with The Jam in 1982 he wasted little time in moving into the deeper soul soundscapes that he wanted to combine with funk and synthpop while keeping an open mind about the incoming trends: deep house, avant garde or fusion jazz and even progressive elements of new wave. In other words, if he’d felt constrained or frustrated on occasion during his earlier stardom his promise to himself was to make great music.
With new partner Mick Talbot (a former member of Dexys Midnight Runners and mod outfit The Merton Parkas) he found the perfect foil, a gifted keyboards player with a penchant for Hammond organ and a sunny disposition. Between 1983 and 1989 The Style Council enjoyed enormous success in the UK and Europe and made inroads into the American market. Their best-known singles, “Speak Like a Child”, “Long Hot Summer” and the sublime “My Ever Changing Moods” (a precursor to the styles of Weller’s solo career) kept Jam fans onside and drew in new listeners. The big albums – Café Bleu, Our Favourite Shop, The Cost of Loving and the experimental Confessions of a Pop Group were all top twenty or better but while they acquired Gold and Silver status they had something of a connoisseur appeal and Weller was right when he said that people would appreciate them more in years to come. They are prime examples of the uDiscover mantra since discovering them anew is a real pleasure. All have aged well. We also have a cracking live album, the mid-period Home & Abroad, and plenty of compilations as well as the definitive 5-CD Box Set, The Complete Adventures of The Style Council, that includes the previously unreleased final album, Modernism: A New Decade from 1989, something most people only heard a decade after it was completed and delivered.
Fresh from The Jam, Paul Weller began rehearsing with Mick Talbot, drummer Steve White and guest vocalist Tracie Young (the protégée Paul helped launch, she had sung on The Jam’s final single, “Beat Surrender”) and made debut recordings in Paris, summer of 1983 under the name The Style Council, one influenced by the French modernist philosophers of the 20th century. The results were a seven-track mini-LP made for non-UK markets, though it was imported in large numbers. As a taste of things to come this is essential, since it includes the original and club mixes of “Long Hot Summer”, “Speak Like a Child” (their British debut, featuring Zeke Manyika from Orange Juice on drums) and classy items “The Paris Match” and “Money-Go-Round, pts. I & 2”.
The official UK debut arrived in March 1984 with producers Weller and Peter Wilson constructing a soulful and emotionally appealing disc that showed the outfit in an eclectic light with songs ranging from jazz soaked instrumentals – Talbot’s speciality - to perfect pop. Adding Honourary Councillors Ben Watt and Tracey Thorne, from Everything But the Girl, Weller then-wife Dee C. Lee on vocals, specialist horn players and Bobby Valentino’s violin, this excellent album is also noteworthy for the use of bass and brass synths, Weller on the bass guitar and flute sound and many other surprise delights. Dizzy Hite’s rap on “Gospel” is one; the clavinet on “Council Meeting” is another. Weller’s “The Whole Point Of No Return” is a slice of bliss and producer Wilson’s subtle drum programming is vital to the effect of “You’re The Best Thing”, a piece that should delight anyone who loves Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. The perennially popular “My Ever Changing Moods” with its sax and trumpet funk arrangement reached #25 in the American chart and it was decided to rename the US release with that title. The Jam this was not: Weller it most definitely was.
1985’s Our Favourite Shop (known as Internationalists in the USA) is considered by Weller to be the culmination of his faith in the new project, since it had taken guts to walk away from his previous incarnation. His decision was vindicated: Our Favourite Shop hit the top slot in June 1985 and gave the world those superb singles, “Shout to the Top!” “The Lodgers” “Boy Who Cried Wolf” and the smash “Walls Come Tumbling Down”.
Using most of the previous disc’s personnel and adding strings arranged and orchestrated by John Mealing (one-time member of the Don Rendell-Ian Carr quintet) the whole affair attains its ambition and is well worth new discovery today.
Home & Abroad arrived a year later during the birth of the Compact Disc era. The title refers to this being a live album, and it’s a good ‘un with a cross-section of the best-known cuts to that point. The full version is now restored so you don’t miss out on “The Big Boss Groove” and “Our Favourite Shop”.
Back in his Solid Bond Studios Weller and Talbot of course moved into a quite different set of grooves for The Cost of Loving, with the accent on American R&B, classic and modern, large elements of house music, the atmospheric single “It Didn’t Matter” and a cover of Anita Baker’s “Angel”. Originally issued as a double-EP this set divided critical opinion but it has weathered well. Check The Valentine Brothers mixes on “Angel” and “It Didn’t Matter” and Mayfield’s work on “Fairytales”.
Confessions of a Pop Group could also be said to be ahead of the game. Only Weller would ask The Swingle Singers to harmonise on “The Story of Someone’s Shoe”. Wilful, wacky? Who cares, those who love classic British sounds won’t demur. This is also the Council’s most far-reaching attempt at a conceptual suite: “The Gardener of Eden” is neo-progressive and might have foxed Jam fans, more likely they turned to “Why I Went Missing” and “How She Threw It All Away” with Dick Morrissey’s flute suggesting a later direction for Weller as he immersed himself in the psychedelic folk rock of Traffic, Family and Blind Faith.
Pushing the boundaries very far out Style Council’s last hurrah was Modernism: A New Decade. Considered too dance orientated by the label then, though it would have graced the mood of 1998 had it come out. Eventually it did as a double-vinyl promo and in CD format on the excellent box set The Complete Adventures Of (1998), the essential companion to the originals and an anthology that will repay long and detailed discovery.
If that’s one to save up for then try their first greatest hits, The Singular Adventures of The Style Council, Vol 1 and the logical companion, Here’s Some That Got Away, where B-sides and demos offer a rounded overview. Or look for the chronological Greatest Hits (2000), the reliable The Best of The Style Council – The Millennium Collection (20th Century Masters) and the popular Sweet Loving Ways – The Collection by The Style Council.
Somewhat misunderstood at the time, Weller’s project had a depth and humour that repay investigation. As the bridge between The Jam and his esteemed solo career, in which he has been given his dues as a modernist master, The Style Council offered an antidote to the 1980s tendency for navel gazing. We reckon you’ll be amazed at what’s around here – the perfect soundtrack to a long, hot summer.
Words: Max Bell
Style Council's first proper album Cafe Bleu was one of their better efforts, but it indicated the group's fatal flaw -- a tendency to be too eclectic and overambitious. Amidst the lazy jazz instrumentals, many of them courtesy of Mick Talbot, Paul Weller inserted several solid soul-tinged pop songs, including "My Ever Changing Moods," "Headstart for Happiness," "You're the Best Thing," and "Here's One That Got Away." However, that doesn't excuse the rap experiment, "A Gospel." The album was later released with a slightly different running order as My Ever Changing Moods in the U.S.; the American edition included the U.K. hit "A Solid Bond in Your Heart."
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
If The Cost of Loving was a thoroughly mediocre affair, Confessions of a Pop Group was flat-out bad, without a single like "It Didn't Matter" to redeem its indulgences. Throughout the album, Weller engages in some of his most pretentious and mean-spirited lyrics but they are no match for the music he's written, which ranges from self-important jazz-pop fusions to an orchestral suite that finishes the album. The result was bad enough to leave him without a record contract in the U.K., where he was considered a god just eight years earlier.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The Cost of Loving is widely regarded as The Style Council's worst album. Compared to the rest of the group's catalog, this is a fair assessment. However, many folks feel the need to dismiss the album altogether; this is too bad, because, though the album is decidely flawed, there really are some fine songs to be found here. The first problem with the album was the timing of its release. Unlike the previous TSC albums (including the US mini-LP compilation, Introducing The Style Council), which had come out in either spring or summer, The Cost of Loving came out smack in the middle of winter. The overall sound of the album seemed to reflect this, lacking the spirit of its predecessors. It was also the first Style Council album to boast a proper band lineup, whereas the group had previously been Paul Weller and Mick Talbot with an ever-shifting cast of Honorary Councillors. Only the group's decision to bring in different people (among them Curtis Mayfield) to mix each song was in keeping with this tradition. As far as the songs go, the only serious misstep is "Right to go", ruined by some embarrassing (and dated) "rappin" by The Dynamic Three. However, the title track suffers from a needlessly clunky arrangement (a much-improved, re-recorded version was released later that year as the b-side of "Wanted"), "Angel" is a bit lackluster sounding, and "Waiting" was Weller's first single in many years to miss the UK top 40. But, not all is lost... "It didn't matter" was the biggest hit from the album; though slightly droney, its passion carries it through. The real highlights of the album, in my view, are "Heavens above" and "Fairy tales". Not only do these two songs come the closest to achieving the soulful sound TSC appeared to be striving for, but they're also the most passionate songs on the album - not to mention the most political. Additionally, "Fairy tales" (politics aside, a party tune) was mixed by the great Curtis Mayfield. Rounding out the album are the lurvely, romantic "Walking the night", and the so-called 'hidden track' (it wasn't listed on the UK LP) "A woman's song", a stinging piece based on a children's lullaby. Could this have been a better album? Sure. But you'd be missing out if you were to ignore it...
Words: Kevin J. O'Conner
Our Favourite Shop, the Style Council's second proper album, was still quite eclectic, but it didn't seem as schizophrenically diverse as Cafe Bleu. Paul Weller had been able to incorporate his soul and jazz experiments into his songwriting, writing the fine "Walls Come Tumbling Down," "Come to Milton Keynes," "Boy Who Cried Wolf," and "Down in the Seine," which were some of his best songs for the Style Council. The occasional misguided experiment remained -- the stiff funk of "The Internationalists" and the self-righteous "The Stand Up Comic's Instructions" were particularly embarrassing -- but the record was more cohesive and stronger than the debut. In America, the album was released without "Our Favourite Shop" and retitled Internationalists.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
This music will not age; the Style Council is special. I own albums and CDs of all of their music because: 1) Their music withstands frequent listenings 2) When friends that know the Style Council see SC CDs in my collection, they go crazy and want me to play them. 3) When friends that don't know the Style Council hear the music for the first time, they go crazy and want to know who's the band, where can they find these gems, etc. 4) Paul Weller is an amazing artist, a master of genres who understands melody, content, and style. Critical musings here don't do the Style Council justice. REM slammed Weller's Style Council phase in an interview, proving REM is both a second-rate band with an inferiority complex as well as a poor judge of music. This first Style Council work is a great starting place for the band. It's as smooth as good cognac--I equate this music with adventure, physical indulgence in the opposite sex, cool dance clubs, intellectual exploration, and pleasure-induced numbness. It truly is music for hedonists. One never tires of songs such as "Paris Match" (version here is the best) or "Long Hot Summer." They're my favorite band of the 80s--folks never got over the Jam breaking up and would use Weller's future projects against that band's measuring stick. But they're on different playing fields. Critics, it's okay to love non-Jam Weller tunes. Final urging to those unfamiliar with this band: As I glance over my extensive music collection looking for great bands of the 80s, I constantly find myself passing on my Husker Du, Minutemen, Smiths, Joy Division, Robyn Hitchcock, and Billy Bragg in favor of the Style Council. I love those bands. But the comfort level I attain when I listen to SC is really quite astonishing--I cannot seem to wear this band out after 17 glorious years of listening to them.
If you have any interest in The Style Council buy this CD. The band is almost impossible to categorize. Read the online reviews and notice how everyone's definition of their music is different. "White Soul" is one description that sticks with me and is supported by this CD. Unlike many bands, they sound even better live, probably because they are great musicians. They are loose but groove really well on this recording. It's a great mix of some of their finest songs at the peak of their history. This is the album that introduced me to The Style Council and it remains my favorite. The horns are strong, the strings are real and the band is tight. Camille Hinds is a fantastic bass player and Steve White is the most underrated drummer I know of. Listen to his little fills that show his jazz foundation. I also own the video tape version of this concert and it's the most enjoyable concert video I've seen. This is what pop music can achieve but rarely does - polish, soul, melody, instrumentation and class.
The live album Home & Abroad, which the Style Council released at the height of their popularity, was rather boring and lifeless, showing that they could re-create their sophisticated studio sound on-stage, but it never conveyed how exciting the band could be in person. Released almost a decade after they broke up, In Concert actually does a much better job showing what a vital, unpredictable, and energetic live group the Style Council actually were than the earlier release. The tracks are culled from various concerts over a four-year period and highlight key album cuts, singles, B-sides, tunes they never captured in the studio, and classic soul covers. The group often changes the arrangements of songs, adds (or subtracts) instruments from certain numbers, or gets into extended instrumental jams. the Style Council were never thought of as a very exciting band, but this overview of their concerts shows that they were a unifying and crowd-pleasing live act that was much closer in spirit to a 1960s soul review than to other big 1980s pop groups of the time. Rather than being a cash-in project, In Concert is a must-have for Style Council and Paul Weller fans.
Words: Nick Dedina