Collecting both hits and tangents, this double-disc anthology of Paul Weller’s post-Jam project has a concise narrative punch lacking in 1998’s more thorough box set.
Think of the Style Council’s career as the pop equivalent of a semester abroad: Paul Weller embarked on this journey with the explicit intent of broadening his horizons. He had grown tired of the Jam, the trio that he had led since he was 14, ushering them through the frenzied days of punk and leading them to the top of the UK charts. The Gift, the trio’s last album, was sitting at No. 1 when he decided to pull the plug in 1982, believing there was nothing left for them to conquer. He chose to put childish things away and act like an adult for the Style Council.
Weller enlisted Mick Talbot, a keyboardist who previously played with Jam disciples the Merton Parkas, as his lieutenant, but it was clear from the outset who was in charge. In the video for 1983’s “Long Hot Summer”—their third single and the song that lends its title to this new anthology—Talbot spends his time rowing a bare-chested Weller to a riverside picnic; later, Tabot would literally carry Weller’s bags in the clip for “Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Absurd as the images may be, there’s an endearing playfulness to the videos that’s telling. Weller scowled through most of the Jam, adopting the look intense young men wear when they’re seriously making serious music. Here, he’s cavorting shirtless, so carefree he’s nearly camp, embracing the hint of sexual ambiguity with the same gusto with which he has a beatnik bongo player join their party.
Signifiers were a big deal for the Style Council. The group’s first single, “Speak Like a Child,” shared a title with a 1968 Blue Note LP by Herbie Hancock; they designed the album cover of 1985’s Our Favourite Shop so that it spilled over with the books, fashion, music, and film they cherished most. They swapped punk and mod for jazz and soul as musical touchstones, and the group expanded this obsession through the ’80s, incorporating house and garage to an extent that their record label rejected their final album for veering too far into the dance-music realm. The mysterious, uncredited Cappuccino Kid—widely believed to be Paolo Hewitt, a confidant and biographer of Weller’s until they had a falling out in the 2000s—penned righteous manifestos for the band’s liner notes. They embraced political activism, fighting against prime minister Margaret Thatcher with such enthusiasm it nearly consumed them.