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WPGM Recommends: Bruce Foxton – Smash The Clock (Album Review)

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Bruce Foxton is an English bassist from Woking, Surrey. Since 1984, with his solo debut, Touch Sensitive, he has, arguably, kept himself reasonably occupied, after his principal band, The Jam split up in 1982. His sophomore solo effort, Back In The Room, came out in 2012.

Between that and his debut, he played with punk rock group, Stiff Little Fingers, for fifteen years, and in that time, they released five albums, from 1991 to 2003. Like when in The Jam, he co-wrote some of their material, but arguably was their principal songwriter in more instances for them than his first band.

His third solo album, Smash The Clock, was released on Friday, May 20. Recorded at Paul Weller’s Black Barn Studios, the album features guest appearances from Paul Jones, Wilko Johnson and Weller himself, who contributes guitar and piano arrangements to a number of tracks.

Bruce and co-writer, Russell Hastings, tour as From The Jam, with Hastings taking guitarist and vocalist duties on Smash The Clock. He’s the only frontman other than Weller to have worked with both Foxton and ex-Jam and From The Jam drummer, Rick Buckler.

The opening track, “Now The Time Has Come”, is joyful and evokes, as it should do, that young man from The Jam just that little bit older. The guitars are earnest and carry, perhaps, that little bit of regret tinged with looking at things in retrospect. You can just about hear the bite of the bass in the middle section, more so when the bass fill comes in. Maybe there’s joy in the fact that, when the chips are down, your best will always prevail.

“Round & Round”, meanwhile, is quite a moody effort with some tense hi-hat action. The wah wah inflected guitar, sparse in its totality, contrasts well with that tree trunk, occasionally funky bass. This number really grooves, and’s one that you could picture a usually pogoing Bruce Foxton crowd dancing to. The middle section lets the song breathe, and is very brief, before the song ends.

The third, the contemplative “Pictures & Diamonds” is a very atmospheric effort. You can hear the organ yelping now and again, really giving the song some character. The song then really begins to soar, busy bass set amidst the organ really breaking out in itself. The guitar, for the most part, merely strums through the track, yet the attack of its strum both adding to the sound and blending in, all at the same time.

Bluesy “Louder” is a tad sad at the same time. The bass sets out to explore the melancholy of the track, as everybody else aims to establish the foundations of the song. This perhaps aims to convey constrictions, and trying to break free of them. On the other hand, knowing one’s boundaries is how you learn not just the rules, but how best to break them.

“Sunday Morning” has jangling, Wild West piano underpinned with bass that really kicks. Horns give it that touch more drama, drama totally at odds with that day that is Sunday. The hook, propelled by that bass and piano really gets things moving. The middle section takes it to a different place before the fade out and end.

The wild “Full Circle” is perhaps the most animated the guitars have been so far. They howl like a wildcat plugged into an effects pedal. That crunching bass underpins everything, more so during the middle section when accompanied by some lively harmonica. It’s all like the tale of an outlaw, coming full circle, due for retirement but still pulling all the rebellious stops.

Title track, “Smash The Clock”, has intense guitar going very well with a ringing bass that metaphorically tolls the bell. The track has the drama of numerous songs with their roots in The Jam; hence why, perhaps, this song is the title track. Saxophone, perhaps un-Jam, makes an appearance, but works wonderfully in the context, suitably wild.

“Back Street, Dead Street” opens with rock guitar that’s got that touch of bluesy funk. The vocals evoke a very back to basics approach, a straight ahead rock tune, and no more. The riff’s quite cyclical but never repetitive, hence why, perhaps, it gets in your head like a welcome earworm.

Then there’s “Writing On The Wall”. This is acoustically driven, despondent but with a hint of hope. Perhaps, taking the title of the track and the subsequent lyrics, this gloomy backdrop serves to convey how, really, the writing’s on the wall, and this relationship’s over. Maybe that hint of hope is that a new relationship is on the horizon, or the ended relationship was damaging and time is needed to heal. Sombre and mournful, it shows Foxton to be a more rounded writer than many would suspect, especially seeing as he’s considered very much the secondary writing influence in projects he’s best known for.

Melancholy “There Are Times (To Make Me Happy)”, has a sliding riff feel to it. Spaced out, almost probing for life on another planet, it’s very exploratory. It’s, however, markedly more positive in its outlook to the previous track. It’s very simple, and complexity and beauty is in how very, in fact, simple it is.

“Alright Now” is a moody rocker, with licks of organ giving it an almost hard rock feel. The guitar, rarely prominent in the album so far, really breaks out with its funky riff and additional histrionics. Many of the guitar’s finest moments are through chordal passages, rather than fancy and twiddly guitar solos. That’s quite refreshing, in some respects.

Second from last, “Running Away From You”, is contemplative, upbeat and hopeful. The drums punctuate key, dramatic phases. The latter is also quite busy throughout, aiding the piano in conveying life affirming struggle. Unlike the last, there are some elements of guitar solo, but are used in such a way not to be considered overly bold.

Closer, “50 Yards Down Sandy Lane”, fades in gradually, the woodwind evocative of springtime, and all things generally mother nature. The acoustic guitars, and there appears to be more than one, really strum an atmosphere that evokes pictures in the mind. The bass is as prominent as can be in such a laidback context, its roots as sturdy as the tree trunks it seems to convey in this wild wood, forest soundscape.

The album is an eclectic mix of rock music in its various, nuanced, disguises, pleasing those that like to rock out, and those who like to think, or maybe even absorb lush soundscapes. What’s more, it isn’t merely a mix of disparate genres and tracks thrown together, as there appears to be a running theme throughout the effort. That, one could construe is that, generally, of the issue of time.

“Now The Time Has Come” conveys rising to the occasion; “Round & Round” like the cyclical hands of time; “Pictures & Diamonds”, perhaps, like a trip down memory lane; “Louder” maybe the tolling of the bell as it reaches midnight; “Sunday Morning” like time resetting, as another week begins; with “Full Circle”, again, reinforcing the hands of time reaching that aforementioned Sunday.

Moving on, with title track “Smash The Clock”, it conveys time becoming no issue, resetting, a second chance to undo all that’s bad; “Back Street, Dead Street” maybe coming to a dead end, nowhere to go but backwards; you having to go backwards because of the “Writing On The Wall” of that aforementioned dead end.

“There Are Times (To Make Me Happy)” referring to getting out of that rut, times the ticking of the clock, and fond memories; “Alright Now” letting go of memories and learning to dwell in the present, and not the past; “Running Away From You” conveying to run from the past and bad relationships; with “50 Yards Down Sandy Lane” being your current address, having prevailed over all you’ve overcome.

Bruce Foxton, that man from The Jam, has put together something both fans of that band, and those, perhaps of the Britpop generation, will appreciate, especially if the latter are also fans of fellow solo Jam man, Paul Weller.

It has that mix of urgent rock evocative of the late Seventies and into the Eighties, and also of subdued, acoustically driven music associated with more singer songwriter based material. Bruce Foxton’s Smash The Clock can be purchased on iTunes here.

Words by Andrew Watson

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