I really didn’t know what to expect with Bruce’s first solo album in more than a quarter of a century, but I’m pleased to say my critical sense was uncompromised by the end result – 12 strong songs ensuring a proud return for the former Jam bassist in the company of co-writer and From The Jam front-man Russell Hastings plus bandmate Mark Brzezicki.
What’s more, this Foxton and Hastings’ driven project proved perfectly co-ordinated by Paul Weller collaborator Charles Rees, with the influence of the former Jam front-man never far away either, the recording further complemented by telling contributions from guest personnel.
From semi-instrumental intro Ride onwards, Back in the Room is a joy to behold and covers classic Foxton territory in certain respects – that unmistakeably-bass sound and trademark backing vocals suggesting in places an outtake of seminal 1980 long player Sound Affects, coupled with the earlier passion and inventiveness of All Mod Cons.
Either way, you get the feeling this is Bruce and co saying ‘here we are, we’re back – where have you been?’ And from the moment that throbbing bass comes through on the wondrous Number Six and Russell’s vocals first come to the fore, it’s clear we really have something here.
While Bruce’s characteristic vocal takes us back and brings a lump to this old cynic’s throat, there’s so much more on show in what is quite simply emotionally-charged, classic three-minute pop. It’s also got – like a few tracks here – Paul Weller all over it in certain respects, in what should have been the key to a huge hit.
There’s a more laid-back, soulful approach at play on Don’t Waste My Time, the influence of Stax guitar legend Steve Cropper there for all to hear and leaving an indelible impression on the proceedings, tucked in behind Russell’s lead vocal and those ever-fitting Bruce harmonies.
Window Shopping is more familiar Jam and Weller territory, and superb for it – from the Wasteland-style recorder to Revolver-era Beatles backward-guitar touches, a sublime to slip easily into the From The Jam repertoire.
We change gears again to great effect on Glad I Found My Tears, a trippy ’60s feel to the fore as Bruce takes lead vocals, while Russ – like Paul all those years before – comes in at opportune moments to back that to perfection. I hate to keep making those comparisons with a certain Woking three-piece, but think Liza Radley or That’s Entertainment and you’re almost there – heading through the long grass to a perfect soundtrack for those long hot, lazy summer days.
An instrumental interlude – again typical Foxton/Weller – takes us to The Wide Open Road, elements of Paul’s own 22 Dreams project supplemented by Bruce’s chunky bass and an unexpected but similarly effective meandering helped on its way by Spandau Ballet’s Steve Norman – as is the case on Don’t Waste My Time.
We have some good, honest Dr Feelgood-like r’n’b to follow on Find My Way Home, Russell’s backing vocals and that glorious George Harrison style backwards guitar again perfectly complementing Bruce’s lead.
The Gaffa keeps that vibe coming, the pub-style piano backing perfectly placed on this stormer, this time bringing to mind Set The House Ablaze with Lady Madonna brass all over it – again with thanks to the blowing Mr Norman.
Drifting Dreams is more wistful, and we’re back in more ballad-driven territory again, Russell’s sweet vocal and phraseology making it difficult to see where Paul ends and he begins at times. There’s also an Ocean Colour Scene feel there, an almost- melancholic Russ reflecting on ‘long summer nights just drifting through my mind’.
Strong as Russell’s voice is, it sounds all the better backed by Bruce’s, their harmonies so good on Coming On Strong, that understanding of subtle chord changes and effortless gear shifts bringing the emotions back to the fore again, while the underlying guitar suggests all the power of a Ronnie Lane classic.
The pace steps up again as we edge towards the finish line, Bruce leading the band – and it is a band, despite just Bruce having his name on the front – to perfection on Reflection as we build towards that climax, the Hammond organ always just below the surface, the middle eight suggesting a few tips picked up in expert company over the years, and those anthemic ‘sha-la-la’s fitting the bill perfectly.
Then we’re away, Mark Brzezicki’s percussion, the poignant recorder and guitar bringing a little Big Country into the frame on Senses of Summer, with perhaps a little of that old Sound Affects era Jam there too, the anthemic approach again a factor as Bruce and co sign off in style … until next time.
* For the May 2013 writewyattuk interview with Bruce Foxton, head here