There is without doubt a tension between the sound of Jam Science -an attempt at a tight, clear, drum machine based music- and the cover art -an atavistic object containing lard, antlers and a monkey skull among other things. There were, as there always are, Reasons for this.
The title comes, as attentive listeners will know, from a particularly striking image in Carl’s song ‘Under the Lights’
here it is again, remastered for the imminent re-release)
'too late, it's mad old Uncle Danger: jam science and quietly chewing sparks'.
Still not sure exactly what was meant by it, but a little bomb went off in my mind and the sleeve art shrapnelled out of it. It seemed to have a number of cultural connections: which all resonated pleasingly with each other. These were:
1: Blade Runner, the cyber-punk, dystopian Riddley Scott movie which, along with Apocalypse Now, was the movie of the 80’s for us, the arty disaffected and alienated.
What was particularly exciting to me, though, was the rich, messy, all too plausible version of the urban future which it set out. The street kids talk a slang of hispanic and japanese; there are crumbling ancient structures beneath all the hi-tech, rotting before your eyes under the corrosive rain. Advertising survives like a vigorous, gaudy weed amongst all this decay, fuelled by increasingly cheap technology.
There wasn’t much of a leap then to-
2: William Gibson, godfather of the foremention cyber-punk, especially his novel ‘Neuromancer’ where street gangs recognise each other by the nature of the shark cartilage they surgically enhance themselves with; where a ‘console cowboy’ (hacker) transcends physicality (‘the meat’) to go ghostly walkabout in the dreamscape of all the world’s computer software (the security codes which surround a bank’s archives appear as enormous cliffs of ice which our man must traverse to steal secrets -yes, one of Gibson’s achievements was to make reality’s pale, pot-noodle-munching computer geek appear butch and adventurous).
3: an anecdote of (I think) Robert Palmer about when he was introduced to some African musicians way out in the bush, who were playing giant thumb pianos, the tines of which were made of the struts of umbrellas and whose old guitar pick-ups were amplified by a Health and Safety-lite generator/amp combi. One can imagine the sound -which Palmer was very taken with- and he said that, as he approached them, not knowing what he would find, it was this and the fountain of blue sparks that reached him first; all crackling and twanging in the velvet Savanna night.
4 the West Indian Sound System -and Lee Perry’s studio- the reggae take on hi-tech: simultaneously abusing and honouring it -it seemed like the correct way to go (I thought of my old Crumar organ). Squeezing it mercilessly to make it do new and amazing things, decorating it like a shrine. Acknowledging it’s power as a means to expression -rebellion, even- but showing it no reverence: ripping off the grills, smothering the shiny matt-black (Japanese or German?) off-the-peg product with red green and gold paint and Outsider Art images of the Lion of Judah. Talismans to deflect evil or Babylon down-pressure dangling from sound equipment whose designers who might initially be aghast but who might -given time- recognise this as a sincere compliment. It’s all Voodoo, after all.
5: a tiny image in Victor Papanek’s book 'Design for the Real World ' (recommended) of a radio designed for use in places where regular batteries are hard to come by and radio communication could save your life.
It runs on cow dung as well. I love it that someone’s peronalised it with pretty shells and fabric. Exactly like a smart phone.
6: Russel Hoban’s epic post-apocalyptic novel: 'Riddley Walker' (very much recommended). It tells of the state of civilisation in Kent (UK) maybe a couple of millenia after a nuclear holocaust. Life has come back to a Bronze Age level of technical development: agriculture has started, hunter/gathering is on it’s last legs but everything is haunted by an imperfectly remembered past. Language itself carries, in it’s stricken DNA, the memories of computers, nuclear physics and big science.
While the grim, rain sodden people of the Future slog out a living in the mud and hunt with bows and arrows they talk (uncomprehendingly) of the atomic research of the past, though now it’s become a kind of mysticism: ‘clikkin & countin thay gygers & thay menne cools of stoan. Smauler & smauler thay groan with Eusa in tu the hart uv the stoan hart uv the dans. Evere thing blippin & bleapin & movin in the shiftin uv thay Nos.Sum tyms bytin sum tyms bit.’
Map of post-apocalyptic Kent according to Riddley Walker (check out the eroded or radiation-mutated names: ‘Widders Bel’ is Whitstable, ’Do it Over’ is Dover, ‘Fork Stoan’, Folkestone. On the Jam Science Object you can see Herne Bay on the map (a subtle homage). It would have been ‘Horny Boy’ in Riddley-speak.
I asked Da Gama our artwork people to design us an ‘artifact’ that might reflect these concerns and they were very much up for it. We had found Al Macdowell and John Warwicker just after Care when we were looking for designers who would take over from our DIY efforts with enhanced visual skills but a similar mindset. They exactly fitted the bill. John was to go on to found the Tomato design company (famous for the Trainspotting credits) and Al went to LA where he would become a big shot production designer (Minority Report, Fight Club and so on).
Anyway, the way I rationalise the cover art and the music is: a generic drum computer draped with the all-too-human sounds and wordage of that time, us people and a world full of stuff: some of which is calling out for attention.
A framework and a mess. Skeleton and flesh. Jam held together with Science.
All human life is here.