Various - This Is The Modern World
Blame it on The Who as, I'm guessing, the release of this album is timed to coincide with their decision to take to the roads and the sky once more to tour the US and Europe. With half their number now dead, you'd have though Townshend and Daltrey would have decided, like Page and Plant, to drop the name of the band and tour on their own strengths but clearly the name of The Who punches with more weight than either of their names and as My Generation picks up more radio play this summer than it has done since its last reissue, mod is once again upon us.
Of course, the bank holiday scraps on Brighton Beach may be a thing of the past, replaced, one assumes, with a less-focused, more random violence, but with sales of scooters continuing to rise and the green parka's continuing place as an item of fashion, 2004 is surely as good a time as any for a release of This Is The Modern World, a two-disc compilation album of, as the title says, forty-nine mod anthems.
Beginning with The Who's My Generation, a track that practically picks itself, Townshend's proto-punk playing, Keith Moon's barrage of drumming across the rhythm and Daltrey's stuttering, "why dontcha all just f-f-f-f-fade away" is the stuff of a rock classic and no matter that the radio is the perfect place to hear it, My Generation is still a thrilling, if obvious, opener. In fact, it sounds even better as it's final chords hammer out, to be replaced by The Jam's The Modern World, which shows that the grimly serious Weller of recent years was formed in the post-punk scene of the seventies. Back then, Weller was stoically waving a battered Union Flag in support of the Tories and against America, standing more for what he wasn't than what he was and as he now rails, ironically as it happens, against the ills of modern life, including, no doubt, hip-hop, synthesisers and the price of a quarter of humbugs, the seeds of slavishly following retro fashions grew inside The Jam's slavish reading of The Who's early years.
And therein lies the flaw with mod and the necessary splits within this album - mod was originally a movement formed in the last year of the fifties in the UK out of an appreciation both for fashion and for soul and rhythm'n'blues records from the US, notably Motown. Mod was primarily a reaction against the retro fashions of teddy boys and trad jazz and it was only when bands like The Who, The Creation, The Small Faces and The Spencer Davis Group staggered into venues and onto television's Ready, Steady, Go! that mod gave its blessing to music by white kids. Not that these bands were ever really mod, as such, given Townshend's rush to leave rhythm'n'blues/pop for rock within the space of an album, meaning that the success of The Who within mod was more a gesture of goodwill to a homegrown band than any formal association. Of course, look back at the career of The Who and The Small Faces and the modern pop of their debuts is quickly left behind for the rock of Tommy and Ogden's Nut Gone Flake.
The charge of modernism was never one that could be placed against The Jam and those that followed in Weller's wake as these bands looked back to an idea of what mod was, as successful then in their attempts as early-to-mid nineties bands like Menswear were in attempting to kick mod back into fashion from a heartland within Camden. Of course, the problem with mod in the late-seventies was one of association with the 1979 release of Quadrophenia, meaning Sting was more of a face on the scene than Secret Affair's Ian Page. As soon as Quadrophenia took the mod revival overground, it was openly mocked and quite rightly too, which was no fault of either the film nor the 1973 album but in the scene's ridiculous appropriation of obvious mod symbols including target T-shirts, Vespa scooters, parka jackets and unimaginative names for the bands on the scene such as The Lambrettas, The Merton Parkas, The Scooters and The Mods, represented here by a selection of nonsense mod memories like the Time For Action, Put Me In The Picture and the Pete Waterman-produced version of Leiber and Stoller's Poison Ivy.
But then, whether by choice or by only having access to a limited selection, This Is The Modern World rescues itself by including a superb selection of sixties soul and rhythm'n'blues tracks including songs by The Supremes, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas and James Brown. Some songs, such Freda Payne's Band Of Gold, which tells of the breakdown of a short-lived marriage in heartbreaking detail, are flawless, including those licensed out of Warner's back catalogue of Stax and Atlantic records such as Eddie Floyd's magnificent Knock On Wood and Wilson Pickett's In The Midnight Hour. But mod? More in spirit than in name.
Arguably the British song that gets closest to what would have been playing in mod clubs in the sixties is The Spencer Davis Group's Keep On Running, which, from the Motor City thump of the rhythm to Steve Winwood's vocal and organ, could well have come from the Motown team of Holland, Dozier and Holland. Whilst that would have appealed to the original sixties mods who were reacting against the retro sounds of rock'n'roll and jazz, the gulf that exists between it and the ineffectual sounds of the '79 revival is telling.
What This Is The Modern World makes absolutely clear, however, is how right the intentions of the original mods were and how wrong it's been since then. Like the rest of the world, the sixties mods fell in love with Motown, Atlantic and Stax but by '79, a movement that originally stood for modernism was standing naked in the face of the then-current sounds of Post-Punk, New Romanticism and Electropop. Compare the sound of The Merton Parkas to The Human League from 1979 and it's patently clear who was modern and who was not. As mod's most recent revival saw Weller back in charge, supported by Ocean Colour Scene, one of whom wore a flat cap seemingly more in honour of Last Of The Summer Wine than mod, the movement has only slightly more appeal than that of the Teddy Boys, which mod set out of make obsolete.
As much as Weller would doubtless have been in support of mod during the late-seventies, he is now the reason it is looked upon in much the same way as those who re-enact historical battles. It's worth crediting This Is The Modern World for recognising the important part Motown played in the development of Mod but, unknowingly, it also serves to show how pointless every revival of mod has been since its first flush of success.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 13:11:07