The Cost of Loving – The Style Council

COSTOFLOVING

Thousands of men, and it is always men, in Clark’s desert boots, a polka dot button down shirt and a Paisley pattern Tootal scarf are members of a sinister cult.  Like all cult members they don’t know that they are members of a cult, they think they are free thinkers.  Far from being victims of a form of brainwashing they see themselves as true believers, holders of an undeniable truth and they see efforts to dissuade them of their beliefs as confirmation of how right they are.  They have fallen under the spell of a sort of musical Scientology.

They are Wellerists.

People who believe that each new album from Weller is more than a collection of songs, from a man who long ago went past his best but the best songs of his long, and often terribly dull, career.  Those who are deepest into the cult will go further, proclaiming each album as not just Weller’s best but the best.  Like members of Aum Shinrikyo they have bestowed upon their leader a title befitting his status as God’s emissary here on earth, he is The Modfather in the same way as Chizuo Matsumoto became Shoko Asahara.

They are not alone in their beliefs of course…similar stances are taken by disciples of Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Morrissey for example.  Members of such aural cults are easy to recognise.  They leap on any criticism, no matter how minor, with a rage that borders on psychopathy.  Death threats, insults, threats of violence and other nastiness await any who would dare to offer anything other than praise to the one true God.

Experts in the field of cults have formulated a list of actions/behaviours/beliefs that can be used to determine whether or not a group is indeed a cult and not a club or a faith group…

The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader…

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished…

The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader…

The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality…

The most loyal members, the true believers, feel there can be no life outside of the context of the group…

Ahem.

I mention all of this simply to put the inevitable abuse that will come my way for the next part of this into some sort of context.

Paul Weller was never better, or more creative, or more genuinely modernist, than when he was in The Style Council.  The Style Council are the high point in his long, and increasingly dull, career.  The true believers will attempt to persuade you that True Meanings or A Kind Revolution or Stanley Road are great records, that these are the best of Weller or evidence of his ongoing relevance and brilliance…“unquestioning commitment to the leader“.

When you point out, correctly, that the pastoral sweep of “Wild Wood” or the post-Council soul boy meanderings of “Paul Weller” are his last truly great records the believers don’t hear the praise, they hear criticism and will seek to denounce you and will belittle you by claiming you don’t “understand”…“the group is elitist”.

Imagine then their unhappiness when I, without any hint of irony, make the following claim…

“The Cost of Loving” is the best album that Weller has ever made.

They will rent their Tootal scarf in twain, their indignation and rage will make Jesus chasing the money lenders from the Temple look like a teenager slamming the door on their parents after they have been told that “No” they cannot go to Michaela’s house tonight.

A bit of me understands.

“The Cost of Loving” is, very definitely, flawed.

It isn’t a perfect album.

But it is the sound of a man drawing closer to modernity and taking a step away from Mod.  It is thrilling because of that.  This is the moment when he almost seemed ready to accept that maybe, just maybe, The Beatles weren’t all that great (they weren’t) and that soul music didn’t die with Marvin.  This sounds like an attempt to embrace the new breed instead of exhuming the old breed.  It also contains his best every single “It Didn’t Matter”.

What followed from The Style Council may well have been more polished and more accessible but “The Cost of Loving” was the starting point for the best of Weller and so it is my favourite moment in his career.