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Bob Smeaton
Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton, Rick Buckler, Steve Brookes

A retrospective view of The Jam, as told through archival footage, interviews with band members, and commentary from those influenced by the band and its music.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English LPCM Stereo 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 1/22/16

• “Paul Weller and Steve Brookes” Segments
• “Paul Weller’s Schooldays” Featurette
• “Growing Up in Woking” Featurette
• “Paul Weller and David Pottinger” Featurette
• “A Monument to the Jam” Featurette
• Two Live Songs from December 1979
• Two Live Songs from May 1981
• “Live at Rockpalast” Concert
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

The Jam: About the Young Idea [Blu-Ray] (2015)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 30, 2015)

On the short list of great UK bands that never established a major presence in the US, the Jam become the focus of a documentary called About the Young Idea. This offers a history of the Jam via the usual mix of archival clips and new interviews.

In terms of participants, we hear from band members Paul Weller, Steve Brookes, Rick Buckler, and Bruce Foxton. We also get comments from journalist Adrian Thrills, record company executive Chris Peary, record producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, journalist Barry Cain, photographer Derek D'Souza, DJ Eddie Piller, biographer Ian Snowball, musician Steve Cradock, and fans Keiko Egawa, Martin Freeman, Maria McHugh, Mark Baxter, David Pottinger, Den Davis, and Paul Abbott. Paul’s father John – the band’s original manager – appears via a 1980 interview.

Idea traces the band’s origins and shows how each member entered the group. We see how they got their record contract and became popular. We also follow aspects of their career up through their dissolution in 1982.

I was 15 when the Jam split, and I had moderate knowledge of the band at the time because I hung out with kids who liked them. I won’t claim great familiarity with their work, though I did snag – and enjoy – the compilation Snap! in 1983. I own other Jam albums, but I have to admit I view them as a “hits band” – I still really like Snap! but I’ve never been able to dig much of their other material.

Because I never really invested in the Jam, I didn’t know a ton about their history, so I was glad to give Idea a look. For the most part, it does provide a competent overview of the band’s career, though it falters as it goes.

During the program’s first half, it works quite well. I’m very happy all of the band’s members show up here – especially Weller. I’ve always had the impression that Weller has spent the last 30-plus years trying to negate/diminish the legacy of the Jam. The fact he was the sole reason the band ended and he created Style Council immediately after the Jam split contributed to that belief, so I wasn’t sure Weller would revisit the past in Idea.

Not only does Weller participate, but he seems reasonably happy to do so. I don’t know how easy or tough it was for the filmmakers to wrangle Weller, but he doesn’t feel like a reluctant commentator. He appears most eager to discuss his earliest days when he formed the band with Brookes, but he goes along with the rest in a satisfactory manner.

Of everything I learned from Idea, Weller’s Beatles fixation comes as the biggest surprise. Sure, I figured he had an affection for the Fabs – the bassline and guitar parts in “Start!” blatantly steal from “Taxman” – but I didn’t realize they’d been such a big deal to Weller. Even a modest Jam fan like myself knows of the band’s connection to the Who, so I didn’t expect to hear how much Weller obsessed over the Beatles. Heck, he even played a Hofner bass in the band’s early days!

All of this helps make the show’s first half pretty satisfying, as it gives us a good mix of interviews and archival materials. These help sum up the Jam’s formation and initial progress in the music business well.

Unfortunately, one factor creates more and more of a drag as Idea progresses: fan interviews. As the show goes, we hear an awful lot from the folks who listened to the Jam back in the day – or in this day with Pottinger, a modern fan who wasn’t even born until more than a decade after the band’s finish.

A little of that material goes a long way. I enjoy some of these fan reflections, but they grow to dominate Idea too much. During the second half of the show, it often feels like we get little more than memories of the band from those who adored them; the musicians themselves almost become an afterthought.

Not that the second half of the show lacks informational value, of course. We do get basics about the band’s progression and their end. We also hear the band members discuss a reunion, one Weller utterly, totally dismisses with a profane exclamation.

For the record, I believe Weller. Given the fact the Jam split 32 years ago and Weller remains so absolute in his refusal to even vaguely consider a reunion, I can’t see it happening. Sure, stranger things have happened, but Weller has been so consistent and extreme in his dismissal of a renewed Jam that it seems virtually unimaginable.

And that’s fine. While I wish I’d gotten the chance to see the Jam in their day, I can’t imagine a 21st century version of the band would satisfy. More so than most bands, they really did seem to be “about the young idea”, so a nostalgia exercise executed by guys in or near their sixties doesn’t sound promising.

I guess About the Young Idea sort of qualifies as a “nostalgia exercise” itself, mainly because so much of it focuses on fan memories. When the program involves band members, it becomes a good history. Alas, those fan moments drag down the show and make it a little disappointing.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio C/ Bonus B+

The Jam: About the Young Idea appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Overall, this was a solid image.

I didn’t factor the archival material not shot explicitly for Idea into my grade. Those older elements demonstrated a mix of flaws, but it didn’t seem fair to criticize the disc for problems that seem inevitable with that kind of stuff.

As for the new shots, they presented good sharpness. These elements consistently looked crisp and detailed, and they betrayed few signs of softness. Those bits portrayed no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent. Outside of the archival materials, print flaws failed to mar the presentation.

Not surprisingly, the program’s palette tended toward natural tones. The hues came across with positive clarity and definition, so they were more than adequate within their subdued goals. Blacks also seemed deep and firm, while the occasional low-light shots appeared well defined and clean. I felt this was a positive presentation.

Unfortunately, the documentary’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack offered more of a mixed bag. Audio quality mostly worked fine, though the source elements created restrictions. Modern interview segments provided nice clarity and remained easily intelligible. Effects became a minor component, but they seemed adequate.

Music varied. Some songs sounded vivid and full, but others – mainly those taken from live TV appearances – could be mushier and less defined. Despite the ups and downs, the music usually offered good reproduction.

The mix lost points mainly due to the awkward soundscape. The track used the five channels in an oddly active manner that left the soundfield without real delineation. Some songs showed decent stereo, but much of the time, the tunes blasted from all the speakers in such a way that they felt like “surround mono”. This was a strange choice that didn’t work and left the track as a “C”.

The package comes with a pretty good set of supplements, most of which appear on Disc One. Under Paul Weller and Steve Brookes, we find a nine-minute, 31-second piece that offers additional material between the men who started the Jam. They talk more about their relationship and music. They also play more tunes on acoustic guitars.

As I mentioned in the body of my review, I thought Weller would be a reluctant participant. While he opens up about the Jam just fine, he seems happiest when he converses about the oldest days with Brookes, and these moments become charming. Their performances aren’t great, but they’re enjoyable in their nostalgic energy.

We look at the past again via Paul Weller’s Schooldays. This one-minute, 50-second clip shows Weller as he revisits the school he attended. It’s a short segment but it gives us a few good notes, especially given Weller’s lack of nostalgia for the place.

More material about the musicians’ youthful days shows up in Growing Up in Woking. It runs three minutes, 57 seconds and follows the same pattern as “Schooldays”. We hear from Weller, Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton as they go back to important locations from their younger days. It gives us another solid little reel.

The musician chats with a very youthful super-fan in Paul Weller and David Pottinger. During their nine-minute, one-second discussion, Weller talks about some song specifics, band subjects and his post-Jam career. Nothing remarkable appears here, but we get a few interesting memories.

A Monument to the Jam goes for one minute, three seconds. It takes Buckler and biographer Ian Snowman to visit “The Space Between”, a sculpture that commemorates the Jam. It doesn’t add much to the set.

A few live performances appear. The Rainbow – London December 1979 (5:40) brings us “It’s Too Bad” and “Saturday’s Kids”, while The Ritz NYC May 1981 (7:31) presents “The Modern World” and “Eton Rifles”. In terms of quality, both segments look terrible, as they come from soft, fuzzy videotape sources. “Rainbow” gives us the more professional presentation of the two, though, as it seems to have been shot professionally. “Ritz” comes from one camera housed at the back of the venue.

“Rainbow” provides superior audio quality. “Ritz” doesn’t sound bad, but it offers monaural material that lacks much range. “Rainbow” delivers stereo audio with pretty good clarity. Both are interesting to see, despite their quality-related drawbacks.

A standard-def DVD, Disc Two provides Live at Rockpalast. Shot November 30, 1980, the 22-song concert runs one hour, 16 minutes and nine seconds. Presented 1.33:1, the show offers three audio options: Dolby Stereo 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1.

Eagle Rock’s J. Geils DVD came from a Rockpalast performance about a year and a half prior to this Jam show, and both offer similar picture/sound quality. This means mediocre but watchable videotaped visuals and erratic audio.

As was the case with the J. Geils release, the DTS option fared the worst. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix worked the best, with the 2.0 track somewhere between these two. For all intents and purposes, the audio remained monaural, but the DD 5.1 version brought out the most range and punch for the songs. Although the mix came with flaws – it could be screechy and edgy at times – I liked the DD 5.1 edition best.

In terms of the performance itself, the show came a mere two days after the release of Sound Affects, the Jam’s fifth album. From that disc, we get “Boy About Town”, “Pretty Green”, “Set the House Ablaze”, “Man in the Corner Shop”, “Start!”, “Dream Time”, “Scrape Away” and “But I’m Different Now”. 1979’s Setting Sons delivers “Private Hell”, “Little Boy Soldiers”, “Thick as Thieves” and “The Eton Rifles”, while 1978’s All Mod Cons offers “To Be Someone”, “David Watts” and “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”.

The Jam put out two albums in 1977. They debuted with In the City, and the concert presents the title song. 1977’s follow-up This Is The Modern World boasts “The Modern World”.

All the remaining tracks appeared as singles. “Liza Radley” was the B-side to August 1980’s “Start”, while “Going Underground” and “Dreams of Chldren” paired together for a March 1980 release. “When You’re Young” hit in August 1979, and “Strange Town” arrived in March 1979.

I think the Jam got better as they progressed, so I’m glad Rockpalast comes from relatively late in their career. However, I wish we could’ve gotten something even later, as I love 1981/1982 tunes like “Absolute Beginners”, “Town Called Malice”, “Bitterest Pill” and “Beat Surrender”, but I still feel pleased with the selection of songs in Rockpalast.

The Jam certainly put on a strong performance here. They play a dynamic, intense concert that shows then in a very positive light. Even with the picture/sound limitations of the source, Rockpalast is a treat to watch – it’s worth the purchase of this set all on its own.

As a documentary, About the Young Idea offers a good but inconsistent look at the Jam. While it gives us the basics and can be quite entertaining, it loses focus as it goes. The Blu-ray brings us mostly good picture along with erratic audio and a package of supplements highlighted by a highly enjoyable 1980 concert. That bonus concert alone makes Idea a must-buy for Jam fans, but the main documentary seems spotty.

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