The Jam, The Gift (1982)
Not sure why that is. Maybe they were just so reliably great that it's easy to take them for granted. Elvis Costello can be that way as well. Damn, when did I last listen to Armed Forces? I should go do that right now...
The Gift is far from my favorite Jam album; I'm far more partial to the epic run from All Mod Cons through Setting Sons and Sound Affects, which established Paul Weller as one of the most consistently brilliant songwriters of the early new wave/post-punk era, melding 60s British Invasion pop with a punk sensibility and crafting an endless parade of perfect pop songs. But The Gift was the album that introduced me to the band when I first discovered it back in high school, and while I later worked my way backwards to the albums I personally prefer, it made a huge impact on me and will always be one of those albums that hold a special place in my heart for opening me up to a whole new world of music.
By 1982, Weller was taking the Jam beyond its trademark sound and moving in a more soulful, R&B- and funk-infused direction. Not everything gels, though when it does, such as on the timeless "Town Called Malice," the results are impressive. The album offer clues to Weller's future directions with Style Council and a solo artist, so one's views of the album likely turn on whether you lean towards the earlier Jam records or those later projects. A few tunes, like "Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero" and "Running on the Spot," most capably bridge the stylistic gap between the Jam's mid-period classics and Weller's later sound.
The real stand-out for me is "Ghosts," a gentle ballad which is a little uncharacteristic of the rest of the album but may be the single finest song Weller has ever written.
Here's "Town Called Malice":
Buy it from Amazon. (This is the deluxe edition, worth it simply for "The Bitterest Pill," the band's final single and the best encapsulation of Weller's new soul direction.)