‘Millions Like Us: The Story of the Mod Revival, 1977-1989′ — Album Review
Though Mod has always been a "very British phenomenon," the impact and legacy of that sound and style still ripples across the world some 50 years after its origins, and 35 years after its first revival. That's the subject of this fantastic new box set which serves as a sort of 'Nuggets' for the Mod revival with tons of one-offs and obscure rarities alongside a smattering of records that actually charted in merry Mod England at the time.
'Millions Like Us: The Story of the Mod Revival 1977-1989' is a four-disc box set that documents that corner of the post-punk scene, something that has not been attempted on this scale before. There were two main catalysts for the second era of Mod taking flight: the 1979 release of the Who's ''Quadrophenia,' and the music of the Jam. Though they do not make an appearance among the 100 songs found here, their impact is felt throughout.
From the start, Jam leader Paul Weller wanted to set his band apart form the punk throngs. Drawing on influences like Tamla/Motown, the Who and Dr. Feelgood as well as the Sex Pistols, Weller cast himself as a Mod for a new era. It was a good jumping off point and a way to make a personal and musical statement that didn't stand in the shadow of punk. Little did Weller know at the time, but he and his then-unique path would serve as inspiration for countless other hopefuls -- some sincere, others opportunistic-- to follow.
Some of the tracks here capture the aggression of punk. The Cigarettes' 'They're Back Again, Here They Come' has more in common with the rapid-fire delivery of early Buzzcocks as much as anything else, and it's brilliant. The box gets its name from a classic single by the Purple Hearts which still sounds like an anthem 35 years later. While many of the bands here are the definition of obscure, some of the players would go on to bigger things. A young, pre-Pogues Shane Macgowan shows up with the Nips, whose 'Gabrielle' is one part Kinks and one part Elvis Costello with Macgowan spitting out his vocal with fire. 'Bank Holiday Weekend' is an amphetamine-fueled stomper by Seventeen, who would go on to grow their hair out, adopt a different stance and change their name to the Alarm.
Secret Affair, one of the more successful bands found here were often featured in the weekly music papers as the face of the new Mod. They are represented by two soul-influenced numbers: 'My World' and 'Time For Action,' both of which were top 20 hits for the band. The New Hearts 'Just Another Teenage Anthem' shows off an obvious Jam influence with a manic pop thrill at it's core. They would later become Talk Talk. Other notable names from the time like the Merton Parkas and the Lambrettas wore their mod-ism proudly on their Fred Perry sleeves.
Of all the bands of the revival, the Prisoners and the Chords always stood above the fray. Their power, punch and knack for writing great songs made them a cut above your average scooter boy with genuine classics like 'Hurricane,' 'Now It's Gone' and 'Maybe Tomorrow' that remain absolutely essential. Elsewhere, ravers by the Crooks and Long Tall Shorty (produced by Sham 69's Jimmy Pursey and showing off a strong punk influence) are highlights of the set, while the Circles delivered one of the finest singles of the entire movement: 'Opening Up.'
The bands in this collection are not all cut from the same cloth. Styles range from that punk-inspired aggression to the more soul-based style of the James Taylor Quartet (no, not that James Taylor) who turn in a majestic Hammond B-3 wallop, to the raw R&B of Nine Below Zero. Elsewhere, we find the whimsical pop of Squire as well as the more psychedelic-tinged sounds of the Times, Studio 68 and the Aardvarks, whose 'Arthur C. Clarke' is a little Syd Barrett meets Ray Daives styled romp. The Direct Hits may be the great lost band of the whole scene. Their 'Modesety Blaise' is everything Blur wanted to be at one point, but never quite got there. In fact, the style of many of the bands found here would go a long way inspiring the entire Britpop scene a decade and change later both in music and fashion.
That's not to say it's all roses. There are a handful of, shall we say, less than admirable representatives here. There are some tracks that haven't aged so well mostly from those who let the cliches get the best of them in both sound and lyric, making for the occasional cringe 30 years later. But the packaging is ace. Housed in a book-style casing, the book within features bios for all the bands as well as some great photos of the scene.
The sound and vision of Mod is still to be found in many places in 2014, from the haircut of Jake Bugg to the superb songs of Miles Kane or the Len Price 3. Of course, Paul Weller himself is still out there making music, as are the Who for that matter. Websites such as the Modcast and Modculture.co.uk keep tabs on the ongoing scene, while various festivals around the globe featuring bands new and old find the pulse of the well-tailored beast far from dead. And, no, you don't have to be a Mod to dig these 100 tracks, though a little of style certainly never hurt anyone.