The mere utterance of Paul Weller’s name can make most fans of British music swoon. The Jam and Paul Weller’s solo work are spoken about with the kind of reverence that Catholics use to describe the Pope. Yet, his eventful career also included another succesful, fruitful endeavor, the creation of the Style Council. Just why is this soulful group so often forgotten, or simply ignored by music critics? Perhaps, it’s time to remind ourselves of their inventiveness and reasses the past.
The Style Council’s appeal
Modern rock listeners, even casual ones, are likely to have heard the Jam and Paul Weller’s music. If you’re from England, where Weller is something of a national hero, it’s is rather inevitable that you have. If that’s the case, you’ve likely made your mind up about what blend of guitar-rock the Modfather tends to make.
However, if you’re hearing the Style Council for the first time, which is not an impossibility, you will be surprised. The guitars and punk-energy of the Jam are muted, instead replaced with a sophisticated soul sound. It’s not unlike the works of ABC or Tears for Fears, the cutting-edge pop acts of the time that had redefined what it was to even be a pop group.
We’re now accustomed to well-versed musicians trying their hands at a completely different style of music. Usually, it’s something they do on the weekends, or in those mysterious periods, bands like to call a hiatus. For Paul Weller and Mick Talbot this was their day job for nearly 8 years.
Breaking up the Jam and start of the Style Council
By 1982, power-trio the Jam was the most succesful, bar the Clash perhaps, band from the original British punk boom. They had not only earned the respect of critics but a hefty amount of chart success, registering 18 consecutive Top 40 hits in the United Kindom. All of these hits had been written by Paul Weller, a young, but a frustrated hero to an entire generation.
Desiring a new challenge and a step out of the brightest of limelights, he announced his intentions to disband the Jam to a stunned world. With news of the breakup public, the punk trio spent the remainder of 1982 promoting their final hit single, Beat Surrender, and playing a string of sold-out dates at the Wembley Arena.
Weller was only 24 years old. His abilities as a musician were growing and so was his willingness to experiment. He would later claim that the Jam had gone as far as they could.
In early 1983 he set about creating a new band alongside keyboard player Mick Talbot who’d been a member of the mesmeric Dexys Midnight Runners, and also of The Merton Parkas, a group that owed much of their sound and image to the mod-punk stylings of the Jam.
If it was true that Weller truly hated the rock star mythology, as he told the press, this would be expressed frankly in the Style Council’s early singles. The keyboard-lead Speak Like a Child set the blueprint for the retro-soul that would characterize the band’s work. It became a national hit, as did the funky Money-Go-Round and the synth-pop ballad Long Hot Summer.
Fan reaction to the Style Council
By the time that the Style Council released their early singles, it seemed like Paul Weller could do no wrong in a commercial manner. Yes, almost all of the releases were hits, but not all of the fans that had grown up with the Jam were immediately on board.
The first notable change was the sidelining of the loud, punchy guitars that had been a staple of Weller’s playing. The Style Council were, instead, a pop group experimenting with sophisticated soul, jazz, and, even, hip hop elements.
Secondly, as the name would imply, the new group doubled down on the fashion aspect. Of course, the Jam were known for their mod appearance. But, all of this was done within the constraints of punk. Everyone one of the Style Council’s publicity pictures and photoshoots resembled glossy fashion photos.
If fans of Weller’s more rocking work were hoping that this was to be merely a passing trend in the artist’s career, they were to be sorely mistaken.
In 1983 the band packaged their early singles into an EP, Introducing The Style Council, and set about promoting it. Weller and Talbot were probably ahead of the game, but shiny, image-driven pop acts that would end up dominating the 1980s musical landscape were waiting just around the corner.
As a consequence, the group’s early shows proved very succesful. Their mini-tour of the U.S. and the hype surrounding the group helped them achieve a U.S. Top 40 hit with My Ever Changing Moods. It would remain Weller’s biggest hit over the pond.
By 1984, the Style Council were ready to release their first full album in earnest, Café Bleu. It expanded upon the group’s early sounds. Jazz elements, soul, pop, and early hip-hop echoes finding their way on to the record. It was a pop album displaying immense ambition.
Critics and fans were torn. Rolling Stone published a particularly nasty review of the work. However, other critics rated it as a great success. The album is still included among some “Best albums of all-time” lists. The band’s overall commercial appeal did not diminish with You’re the Best Thing becoming another national hit.
Our favorite shop
Now an established pop act, and with fewer voices denouncing the breakup of the Jam, Paul Weller set about creating an even more ambitious album. The result was 1985’s Our favorite shop.
The songwriter’s interest in jazz is even more pronounced here, as is his sensibility for great pop hooks. Weller was also a more experienced lyrics writer. He used his skill to tackle topics such as racism, corruption within politics, and the state of the Western world.
Our favorite shop was another hit, reaching number one in the U.K. and producing a string of hit singles. The biggest of these was, arguably, Walls Come Tumbling Down. If Weller had, indeed, been in a more beloved band prior to the Style Council, the chart activity of his recent compositions did not show this.
In 1984 Paul Weller had been invited alongside many of England’s biggest pop stars to take part in the charitable single Do They Know It’s Christmas? Put together by Midge Ure and Bob Geldof, the musical effort was designed to place a spotlight on the unimaginable poverty encountered in Ethiopia.
It wasn’t the first or last time that Weller and the Style Council would lend their voices towards political concerns. In the same year, the soul-pop group recorded the single Soul Deep. The money earned were donated towards miners involved in a nationwide strike.
Weller also represented Red Wedge, a musical project created by Billy Bragg in support of the Labour Party. The musical collective took aim at the politics of then Prime-Minister Margaret Thatcher.
In 1985 the group was asked to perform at the Live Aid concert, an event organized to raise funds to help those suffering in Ethiopia. The Style Council were the second act on the bill. They played songs from their first albums. Their set was well received and Weller’s willingness to participate in supporting such causes al received praise.
The Cost of Loving and the band’s demise
By 1986, much like the Jam before them, The Style Council had seen and done it all. A lot of the creative energy of the band had dissipated. However, the group soldiered through and put out the album The Cost of Loving. It was a record filled with even more professional sounding pop songs. However, many found the new tune generic and the album received the poorest reviews of Weller’s career so far. It Didn’t Matter charted well, but the album failed to ignite a fire within the music-loving public.
The band kept working and one year later released Confessions of a Pop Group. The album was another ambitious work, splitting its time between classical and jazz-inspired pieces, alongside funk-pop compositions. By now the attention of the public was no longer on Weller, however. While the album did break the UK Top 40, it was more a matter of routine rather than genuine excitement. By most accounts, the album also served to further sour the relationship between the band and their hit-desiring record label, Polydor.
With that being said, Paul Weller continues to consider this one of the best works of his entire career. Indeed, many noted music critics have reappraised The Cost of Loving in later years, a fate that might be worthy of much of the group’s work.
If Polydor were still hoping for a pop record to help them move units, they would be in for an added surprise. By 1989 Paul Weller had turned his attention towards the burgeoning deep house scene that was gaining notoriety across England. The singer may have believed that this offshoot of house music was the descendant of soul, but the record label was less convinced and opted to shelf the album.
Modernism: A New Decade finally got released in 1998 by which time the underground club scene had sipped into the mainstream. The Style Council may have been ahead of the stylistic curve, but it couldn’t stop their demise. Faced with public disinterest and with Polydor’s refusal to support them, the group broke up officially in 1990.
Aftermatch and the band’s influence
For a good part of the 1980s, The Style Council was one of the biggest bands in the United Kingdom, Japan, and other parts of the world. It’s strange then that their fame and appeal would be so muted in a modern context.
While not quoted as an influence by too many groups, one can’t help but feel that the wild pop assemblages of bands like the 1975 and Blossoms, as well as those by singers like Troye Sivan, may owe a lot to Paul Weller’s brave blend of commercial and sophisticated musical stylings.
As for Paul Weller himself, musical history has been much more affectionate. Starting with 1990 he enjoyed a highly succesful solo career, was namechecked by the likes of Noel Gallagher as a champion, and continues to score regular hit albums.
To some The Style Council are a mere speck on Weller’s impressive resume. But, to others, especially those who caught the group in their prime, they were one of the most enticing pop proposiions of their day.