The Style Council’s Modernism: A New Decade - Underrated AlbumWritten by Matteo Sedazzari
It is easy to dismiss Weller’s final and rejected album for Polydor, Modernism: A New Decade. Recorded in 1989 and finally released in 1998, but by then the moment had gone. Modernism certainly witnessed a huge change in musical direction for Weller, the usual Soul, Pop, Funk and Jazz sound of The Style Council had been replaced by House Music,
and it would be fair to say there are no echoes of Weller’s former band The Jam to be found in the album. Moreover on those principals alone, people perceive Modernism as perhaps Weller’s darkest hour. This maybe true in terms of his career with Polydor, as it is when Weller gave Dave Munns, MD in 1989 the entire album that he was dropped. A label that Weller had brought so much to in terms of record sales and status with The Jam and The Style Council. In addition, after spending a few years in the wilderness, Weller released his first solo album Paul Weller, September 1992, (three years after being dropped) which reached number eight in the UK charts. Proving that he was on his way up (again) and he hasn’t looked back since. I bet Munns wishes he had kept hold of Weller. Yet the dropping of Weller wasn’t purely over the album, it is slightly more complicated than that, but it would have involved an investment of a million pounds due to a new record contract being negotiated, in which every new Style Council album needed two hit singles, and Modernism didn’t have that assurance. And in 1989 Polydor were not cash rich, so it was safer for them to drop perhaps their biggest star at the time. And by all accounts the relationship between Munns and Weller was pretty strained in 1989.
Going back to Modernism: A New Decade, as stated it indicates Weller embracing a new music genre, House Music, with it origins stemming from the young Chicago blacks in the early eighties experimenting with bass synthesizers and drum machines with samples. The love of House Music in the UK had been heightened by the Acid House explosion 1988. All of a sudden it was cool to dress down, love and peace replaced football violence, the kids attended illegal or legal parties in gyms, warehouses and open fields. Getting drunk was a big no no and was replaced by recreational drugs, firstly Acid which was quickly superseded by Ecstasy (MDMA). It was a time to dance away your troubles to House Music. If Dick Rowe’s famous quote in rejecting The Beatles “Guitar groups are on the way out" had any credibility that was certainly true in 1988 and 89, not the early sixties in the UK.
Yet this explosion was never really documented by an established artist who embraced this change, yes there were UK based artists making House Music, but not chart topping stars, and there were even some artists trying to relaunch their careers via this scene. In 1967 The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Small Faces (all chart topping acts) and a few more, were all influenced and inspired by the Summer of Love, in their music and fashion, leaving behind an amazing legacy of music. Yet which major acts changed their direction and were inspired by the second Summer of Love (1988), the only one that springs to mind is Paul Weller, and Polydor failed to see what Weller had seen. Polydor should have taken the gamble and released it. I personally think it would have been a success (even in underground clubs in the US, as Rock was still the number one choice back then) and Weller’s career may have taken a whole new direction.
In 1989, I was into the Acid House scene, and had stemmed from the Mod Scene. I was a huge Jam and Style Council fan. I remember clearly being in a white builder’s van going up to Nicky Holloway’s Sin (formally The Trip) at The Astoria (pulled down to make way for the new Tottenham Court Tube Station). In the van were three other ex Mods, and we had heard that Holloway was going to play The Style Council’s new single Promised Land, (which didn’t appear on the album) a cover of the House classic by Joe Smooth. There was a feeling of euphoria and unity, Weller was with us, he’d got Acid House; the spokesman of the Mod revival generation will be leading the Acid House generation. Of course we were naïve, but we were young, and youth isn’t about analysing, it is about seizing the moment. However Holloway played the B side Can You Still Love Me? by mistake that night, a thumping bass line, classic DC Lee backing vocals, hypotonic breaks and Weller being at his soulful best, and boy did we dance. And as for Promised Land, it became a club anthem across the UK, with beautiful boys and girls raising their hands in the air, when Weller reassured us we will reach the Promised Land. Love and Peace, don’t you just love it.
As for the album, it does sound a little dated, as many of the records from that era do now, Inner City - Good Life Mickey Oliver - Pump up the Beat and so and so forth. Yet overall Modernism: A New Decade is speculative, elegant, epic, soulful and uplifting. An album that can make you dance or simply relax in the sunshine, a vibe that goes hand in hand with The Style Council. So the tall fella from Woking that got Mod, got Punk, got Funk, got Jazz, got Soul and certainly got House, did produce a masterpiece that captured the spirit of young England in the late eighties. It is just a crying shame, no one else got it.
© Words – Matteo Sedazzari