American fans of the influential late-'70s English post-punk band the Jam are accustomed to having conversations like this: ''Hey, are you into the Jam?'' ''Sure! Vs. and Vitalogy rule! ''No, not Pearl...oh, forget it.''
Though their music is a totally accessible blend of great tunes and punk energy, the Jam will probably always be a cult act in the U.S. ''It was very much a British working-class phenomenon,'' says former frontman Paul Weller, who quit the band in 1982, formed the Style Council shortly thereafter, and has released six albums under his own name since 1991. ''We were three s -- - kickers from Woking, to be quite honest. I just think a lot of people [in the U.K.] related to the fact that we were working-class kids from suburbia, just talking it and walking it. It didn't travel too well.''
That hasn't stopped a recent flood of Jam-related product. In 2001, the band's entire catalog was upgraded and remastered in the U.K. Last year saw the release of a two-CD At the BBC compilation. Now comes a U.S. release of Weller's latest solo CD, Illumination, which many supporters consider his best in years, and a lavish two-disc DVD set of classic Jam TV appearances, due next month. Illumination, which debuted at No. 1 in the U.K. last September, is a mellower affair than Weller albums like 1997's aptly named Heavy Soul. ''I suppose it's more positive,'' he says. ''The world's so s -- -- y at the moment, and I wanted to bring a bit of light and hope into it, really.''
Could a Jam reunion be in the offing? ''Listen, me and my children would have to be f -- -ing hopeless and starving in the gutter before I'd consider doing that,'' says Weller. ''I'm sick of all this nostalgic bollocks, this idea of getting the old band back together and all that f -- -ing nonsense. I'm interested in what I'm doing now. If you're really good, you should be able to get up and do it, you know? You don't have to keep relying on the f -- -ing past.''