The Style Council, Our Favourite Shop 1985, Polydor
All Gone Away
Come to Milton Keynes
A Stones Throw Away
The Stand Up Comic’s Instructions
Boy Who Cried Wolf
A Man of Great Promise
Down in the Seine
The Lodgers (Or She Was Only a Shopkeeper’s Daughter)
With Everything to Lose
Our Favourite Shop
Walls Come Tumbling Down
Formed in 1983 by Paul Weller after the break up of The Jam, The Style Council included: Mick Talbot on keyboards, Steve White on drums and Dee C. Lee as the female vocalist, although they also collaborated with a number of other artists. They experimented with a lot of different musical styles quite deliberately to distance themselves from The Jam, however their music was still extremely political, anti-conservative and very much anti-Thatcherite, as well as being against commercialism and racism. Every track on this, their second album has a deeply political message. As the title track was removed from the American version of the album, Our Favourite Shop was re-named Internationalists for its American release.
The album kicks off with Homebreakers which lyrically is a typical Paul Weller diatribe at the damage done by lack of opportunity forcing people to leave their hometowns. The beat is super jazzy though and about as far away from The Jam as you can get. All Gone Away continues the depressing lyrical theme but it sounds like chirpy background music, like something from a 1970s informercial. Come to Milton Keynes ends the thematic tryptich with some cool piano and soaring violins on a track about how depressing planned towns can be, and the darkness that lurks under the well-manicured surface. Internationalists has a great funky guitar based intro. The band hit their stride here, the funk sound and speed really works well and lyrically it is essentially Weller’s life manifesto. A Stones Throw Away has another atmospheric start courtesy of the string section as Weller gently bemoans the widespread police brutality and totalitarian regimes of the 1980s. Racist satire The Stand Up Comic’s Instructions are given by Lenny Henry as a guest vocalist in spoken word form imitating some of the more unfortunate popular comedians of the 1970s and 1980s. Boy Who Cried Wolf has some proper ‘80s synth keyboard action, the song about lost love is the poppyest and wouldn’t be out of place on a boyband’s album. A Man of Great Promise soars at it tells the story of a friend’s overdose. It’s another poignantly beautiful, double edged number with a bit of a europop vibe. Down in the Seine is a happy contrast, fast paced and accordion and piano rich. The Lodgers (Or She Was Only a Shopkeeper’s Daughter) is deep and soulful, and Dee C. Lee’s vocals shine. Luck continues the upbeat soul / R&B mood. With Everything to Lose has that flute infomercial type start again. There’s some great saxophone here too as the anti-government theme is picked up again. The focus this time being the lack of opportunities for poor urban youth. The album’s title track Our Favourite Shop is a jazzy instrumental. Closer Walls Come Tumbling Down brings the darkness of all that’s come before it together with an upbeat call to revolution against the status quo and a promise that oppressive governments can be overthrown by people working together.
Although it’s an interesting and lyrically strong album, to me it feels gimmicky, as if it should be one or two songs on a rock album rather than a whole album of its own. I shouldn’t compare The Style Council to The Jam and perhaps that’s part of the problem. I like my rage against society to come with crashing guitars and drums rather than a jazz band or an orchestra and a part of me can’t stop myself thinking that I’d rather be listening to Setting Sons or The Gift. Paul Weller obviously had to move on though and leaving Jam fans behind didn’t do his career any harm since Our Favourite Shop reached number 1 in the album chart.
I can appreciate the diversity of stylistic influences on here, jazz, funk, R&B, soul, psychedelia, pop and even a bit of a rap flavour and of course it was pretty radical of them to present their politics in such a chart friendly package, paving the way for other bands without punk leanings to challenge the status quo in their own genres. The Style Council also do more than just complain, they actually challenge the listener to try to fix some of the problems they are singing about, so there is a hopeful message overall.
The saddest thing here though is that for all this hope and musical innovation, this album, released just as the miner’s strike was ending at the height of Conservative power in a country where the political elite in London were completely out of touch with most of the country could easily have been released today, as so many of the problems rema