The Jam, Snap!

What made The Jam really stand out was, for all the neo-Mod trappings and punk class consciousness, its fundamentally optimistic blue-eyed soul basis throughout. Paul Weller may have been a jaded observer of humanity in the form of all the best punk bands, and sometimes the style leaks through, but don't confuse that sort of societal mirror with nihilism (cf. Sex Pistols, etc.): if society could be shown its wrongs, it could change them. That means the thuggery in "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" or the bitter ennui in "Smithers-Jones" or even the hoarse defiance of "Going Underground" are rooted in a very different outlook that this collection shows truly evolving, peaking in piercing social studies like "Town Called Malice" punctuated by pop-friendly cuts like the evergreen "Start!" or the resigned acidity of "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)." Indeed, it's their earlier, more proto-punk efforts that are the weaker tracks on this exquisite compilation, though only by degree. Originally a double LP with a special 4-track live EP in the earliest pressings, for years fans contended with Compact Snap!, a 60-minute bowdlerization which eliminated eight tracks and all of the EP to boil down to a nearly complete singles pack. Universal corrected this indignity in the 2009 rerelease, even throwing in the EP, but I'll say for my money that the twelve missing tracks were good but hardly essential. There's something to be said for getting straight to the point. (Content: mild expletives.)