"Apart from David Bowie, it's hard to think of any British solo artist who's had as varied, long-lasting and determinedly forward-looking a career" - The Daily Telegraph
PHASE ONE (1993-2005)
Uh Huh Oh Yeh/I Didn't Mean To Hurt You/Bull-Rush/Round And Round/Remember How We Started/Above The Clouds/Clues/Into Tomorrow/Amongst Butterflies/The Strange Museum/Bitterness Rising/Kosmos
"I hadn't been down to Woking in a long time. That was the first time, in the early '90s, when I was finding my feet again" - Paul Weller
After a nearly four year hiatus following the failure of The Style Council’s venture into house music with 1989’s Modernism: A New Decade and the subsequent split of the band, Paul Weller returned after a rootless period in which he contemplated packing it all in. He had, actually, still been pretty active during this time, gigging and recording, it was just that whatever he had been up to went under the radar. He had become something of a forgotten man.
Weller had begun gigging again in 1992, with a totally new band, playing tiny venues and showcasing new material. After the highly politicised light jazzy pop of The Style Council, it seemed Weller had spent four years listening to Traffic’s late 60s/early 70s catalogue along with other 60s R’n’B acts and he returned with a “rock” format, which although retrospective in many places, was also very much of its early 90s era - one of the forerunners of “BritPop”. Weller began to be known as “The Modfather” during this period, bestowing on him an “elder statesman” status that seemed slightly odd, as he had once been dubbed “the spokesman for a generation”.
The album is a good one. Full of nostalgic, bucolic lyrics inspired by a return to his home town of Woking and the beauty of the surrounding Surrey countryside. This was an artist wanting to show that he had found a certain amount of inner peace, Van Morrison-style.
Uh Huh Oh Yeh has a strong redolence of Traffic’s early 70s output with its bass/saxophone fade out. I Didn't Mean To Hurt You has a Stax-style organ backing and a funky guitar and a soulful vocal delivery from Weller. It is far more soulful than anything produced by the (supposedly) soul-influenced Style Council. A lot of the lyrics are whimsical or “loved up” - far more of a personal nature than The Style Council’s railing at the political system. Bull-Rush exemplifies this - thoughtful, evocative lyrics and a laid back, dreamy, warm backing. Weller’s voice had never sounded better than this, either, losing some of its abrasiveness. Like Traffic, the flute is employed considerably on this track (and the whole album), along with some seriously funky guitar breaks. The fade out at the end is pure Beatles 1967 era.
Round And Round is probably the most Style Council of the tracks - a light, melodic slow number with some sublime guitar breaks and some “late night” saxophone. It still finds time to launch into a “bridge” of Traffic-style funk rock though. The beguiling Remember How We Started, with its swirling organ breaks, and the beautiful white soul groove of Above The Clouds are both further examples of this new gentle, sensitive soul/rock. One could not imagine Weller doing anything other than sitting in his garden on a summer’s afternoon when one listens to this. I have always wondered why The Jam’s fist-pumping audience came along with Weller as he went on about “open top buses”, “flowers in bloom”, “butterflies” and “curtains in the sun” over a wittering flute backing, such as on Clues. However, they did, his audience was as loyal as it had ever been. Indeed, some seemed to return who maybe had veered off course during The Style Council years.
Into Tomorrow is the most funk rock of the material, with an identifiable rock hook, but that sort of thing is few and far between amidst all the loved up reflection. Amongst Butterflies fits the latter description, but it has a seriously jazzy funk groove to it. Listening to this album no, one realises that it really is nothing like anything Paul Weller had done before, either in The Jam or The Style Council. Butterflies also had an extremely Traffic-influenced fade out. The conga part of Strange Museum is 100% Traffic too. Listening to this, having just heard The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys and Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory, the influences are clear. Weller keeps his tracks shorter, with more of a soul styling. Weller goes falsetto in places on this track too, in Curtis Mayfield style.
The heaviest, funkiest tracks are the last two - Bitterness Rising and Kosmos. This type of sound would serve Weller well for several more years, although it would be merged with a more abrasive, rock guitar attack on later albums.
What is notable is that this album not only appealed to Weller’s legions of fans dating back to The Jam period, but also brought along the new “millennial” generation with it too, who now respected the “grand old man”. He also found his music appealing to those who may not have liked the youthful anger of The Jam. Female teenagers only just born when The Jam started were now appreciating Weller’s music. No more was he just a “lads'” artist. Quite what Weller made of this is not known, he was probably somewhat uncomfortable with it, but was more than happy to sell albums again.
The non-album material from this album's many sessions included one of the first post-Style Council recordings in the catchy jazzy funky pop of Here's A New Thing - featuring horns and flute but also funky bass, programmed house music loops and a typically Weller call for a "new thing", All Around The World-style and the lengthy but infectious jazz rock instrumental That Spiritual Feeling which strongly set out the foundations for Weller's new sound. It was a Style Council leftover that had initially appeared, in less appealing form, on Modernism: A New Decade.
A lighter version, beautifully bassy version of Into Tomorrow was that song's first outing; Arrival Time was another instrumental, and it was one full of "new Weller" acid jazz noodlings - saxophones, parping organ, rumbling bass and solid, funky drums; Fly On The Wall was a gentle, acoustic ballad of the sort that would come to characterise Weller's subsequent solo work. Lyrically, it was full of the mature reflections that Weller would also become known for around this time; Always There To Fool You was an instrumental version of Uh-Huh Oh Yeh; Everything Has A Price To Pay was a deep, folky blues acoustic ballad with a haunting atmosphere and vocal; All Year Round was an impressive, saxophone-drenched live recording of the old Style Council rarity while Feelin' Alright was a convincing cover of the Traffic sixties number.
The Bitter Truth was a lively acoustic, bass and drums number that would have been a fine addition to the album. It sounds as if it took its acoustic lead riff from George Harrison's My Sweet Lord in places. Weller's acoustic cover of Marvin Gaye's Abraham, Martin & John is tender enough but lacks the genuine soul of the original. New Thing is a re-working of Here's A New Thing, with a jaunty, soulful, almost Style Council feel to it - check out those gloriously catchy bassy guitar riffs.
Sunflower/Can You Heal Us Holy Man/Wild Wood/Instrumental One/All The Pictures On The Wall/Has My Fire Really Gone Out?/Country/Instrumental Two/5th Season/The Weaver/Instrumental Three/Foot Of The Mountain/Shadow Of The Sun/Holy Man (Reprise)/Moon On Your Pyjamas
"I think faith is very important. I don't have absolute faith yet but I I like the idea that sometime I will" - Paul Weller
As is pretty well known by now, around this time Paul Weller got into the pleasures of rural life and became a much more laid-back character (to a certain extent) than he had been earlier in his career. The hard-edged punky r'n'b of The Jam was long gone by now, as was the cosmopolitan, tuneful white soul of The Style Council. Actually, even the jazzy, light funk tones of his excellent debut album had been replaced here by a tougher, heavier, guitar-driven sound leaning heavily on 1970s era Traffic for inspiration, often clearly so. Lyrically, Weller went all bucolic, and references to "mountains", "sunflower", "woods", "weavers", "boats", "country", "sun", "season" and the like are highly prevalent here. You just get that feeling of Weller and his band lazing around in the summer of 1993 in the Oxfordshire countryside and laying these tracks down in a relaxed frame of mind, despite the edgy nature of some of the tracks. It just has that air of a relaxed time about it. All reviews must use the words "bucolic" and "pastoral", it seems, and I duly have.
Sunflower is a riffy, late 60s Beatles intro to this rocky, tough edged opener. Despite the guitar attack, lyrically it is still concerned with sunflowers and "sunshower kisses". Can You Heal Us Holy Man is a pretentious title, yes, for this obviously Traffic-influenced song, which also re-uses to a certain extent, the punchy moog riff from the previous album's "Uh-Huh, Oh Yeah". In spite of the titles, it's a good track. Wild Wood sees Weller at his most lazy, hot afternoon, pastoral best. This mellow song is well-loved by fans and features just Weller and his acoustic guitar and has a few hints of Neil Young about it. It is blissfully atmospheric and in its urging to escape from the urban "traffic's boom", thoroughly appealing.
All The Pictures On The Wall is a strident, upbeat bass/drum/acoustic and electric guitar fusion with Weller's vocal both aggressive and tender within the same song. Lyrically, however, it is somewhat cynical, John Lennon-style
Has My Fire Really Gone Out?, Weller asks. Had it, Paul? Somehow I doubt it in this driving, harmonica-driven r'n'b attack. It seems as if Weller is almost mocking his critics in the lyrics. He knows damn well that his energy and creative fire is still there. Great drum sound from the excellent Steve White too, particularly as the track goes all psychedelic at the end, wah-wah guitar and all. The gentler Country is another "solo" acoustic number, with hints of the 1970s output of ex-Small Faces and Faces guitarist Ronnie Lane. Vague reminiscences of some of the Style Council material in the vocal delivery and lyrics too.
After another instrumental break for Weller to have a smoke. A conga and psychedelic guitar intro to this powerful short piece, we get 5th Season, a solid rocker, mid-pace, organ and drums and Weller spitting out the vocals. This sort of material is set in late 60s/early 70s British rock music and is totally different to anything Weller had done before. The swirling organ break is something he would have claimed to despise in his Jam days. Kudos to him for changing his attitudes though, as he has regularly done, to be fair, as he has matured, musically. The Weaver has a strong opening riff which heralds another guitar-driven 60s r'n'b-influenced number with pastoral lyrics. Who would have thought Weller would be going about "the weaver of your dreams" like something off a 70s "prog rock" concept album? Certainly not the man himself.
Foot Of The Mountain has Weller back on acoustic ground again, for the third time, with Weller ruminating on climbing the mountain, of what, who knows? Maybe just coping with life in general. Coping with changing his musical style? Maybe. Either way, it is an appealing track. Shadow Of The Sun was an anthemic concert closing favourite at the time. An extended, heavyish workout ending in some lengthy, but convincing guitar soloing. Again, something that would have been utterly incomprehensible a matter of a few years earlier. Lyrics about "magic carpet rides" too. Despite all that, in many ways, it is the best track on the album. Some great drum/percussion/guitar/keyboard stuff near the end.
Can You Heal Us Holy Man (Reprise) reprises the moog riff from the earlier track, this reprise is placed Sgt Pepper style, as the penultimate track. Unfortunately, however, the final track is no A Day In The Life, however nice is it is.
Moon On Your Pyjamas gives the album something of a syrupy end as Weller goes all poetic about the moon shining on to his sleeping young son's pyjamas. A sweet, soulful delivery from Weller that harks back to the Style Council and bears a bit of a Marvin Gaye influence. Some lovely guitar and keyboards feature.
By the end of the album, one has probably had one’s fill of Paul Weller circa 1994 for a while. It all seemed a bit intense and dare I say it, dull. While the debut album had been a breath of soulful fresh air and substantially different from anything Weller had done before, this seemed to be far too musically introspective and somewhat dense in its grinding guitar-driven soundscape. The next album would shake things up a bit, while not completely dispensing with the same style and influences. I am loath to criticise it too much as I have derived pleasure from it over the years, however.
The non-album material from the time included Hung Up, a short, punchy single release that sort of helped to cement Weller's "Britpop" credibility. You can imagine the Gallagher brothers loving this. There is a potent guitar solo in it, but is doesn't ever really out-do anything on the album. A muscular live cover of The Who's Magic Bus dates from this time too, it segues into Bull-Rush, the opposite of the studio version. The lively The Ends Of The Earth is vaguely Van Morrison-esque, it borrows from Amongst Butterflies in places. I have always loved the deep, bassy grind of the beautiful but chunkily solid and slightly Bill Withers-influenced This Is No Time, it is one of Weller's best songs from the period and should have made the album. A killer, guitar-drenched live cut is from this era too.
The groovy but sleepily funky instrumental Another New Day is a long version of the two instrumentals that were interjected on the actual album. The Loved is a blissed-out tender acoustic ballad. Once again, it is very representative of Weller circa 1993-94. A stonking cover of Neil Young's protest song, Ohio, is a hidden Weller gem, it has a great live version too. Another delightful rarity is Weller's melodic, folky cover of Tim Hardin's Black Sheep Boy.
I'm Only Dreaming uses a bit of the sound of Cat Stevens' The First Cut Is The Deepest on its guitar line as well as some distinctly Beatles 1967 sounds. It has an entrancing sixties feel to it. A surprisingly cover is of the gospel Oh Happy Day, that features some fine saxophone and a soulful Weller vocal. Greetings is a slow-burning and robustly evocative number with a powerful bass line and drum sound. It speeds up appealingly half way through.
The Changingman/Porcelain Gods/Walk On Gilded Splinters/You Do Something To Me/Woodcutter's Son/Time Passes/Stanley Road/Broken Stones/Out Of The Sinking/Pink On White Walls/Whirlpool's End/Wings Of Speed
"Things were going too well, we were too happy, too comfortable, everything seemed too nice and that for me as a writer and an artist makes me feel that I might lose my edge. I had to break the whole shape up, re-arrange things" - Paul Weller
After 1994’s bucolic, late 60s/early 70s Traffic-influenced Wild Wood album, Paul Weller’s third solo album was more of the same, to a certain extent. Personally, I find this album more accessible, its tunes more melodic, less scratchily gritty(if that makes any sense whatsoever!), and there a bit more of a sort of tuneful commerciality about it. The title is the road in which Weller grew up in, in Woking, Surrey. I have been to Stanley Road (it is near the railway line to London) and it doesn’t quite “go on and on” as Weller says in the title track, although as children, all roads go on and on. The cover is a collage of iconic images, a bit like used on the inner sleeve of The Jam’s All Mod Cons and on the rear cover of The Style Council’s Our Favourite Shop.
It is still a largely guitar-driven album, but there are lighter, more melodious moments than on Wild Wood and more use of piano, keyboards and also some extended jams in a few places, that are not as irritating as some have suggested. I find the album a lot less intense and introspective than its predecessor.
The album kicks off with the rocking, riffy The Changingman, in which Weller tells the world that he is, indeed, attempting to change his image, musically, at least. It is a tough, solid rock with lots of hooks, both musically and vocally. Porcelain Gods is a shuffling rocker with some acerbic lyrics that is one of those that “jams” a little at the end, before segueing into an impressive cover of Dr.John’s Walk On Gilded Splinters.
A highpoint of the album is the ballad You Do Something To Me, usually featured in concert dvds with shots of “loved-up” couples gazing into each others’ eyes as the sun goes down. It is a good song, and one that is liked by not just Weller fans. Woodcutter's Son is a rustic-themed song with those Traffic riffs that one would expect to be on Wild Wood alongside tracks like The Weaver. Time Passes is an often-forgotten tender, piano-driven love song. Stanley Road is also led by piano, but this time it is a rocking, driving one, the beat sort of matching Weller’s “it goes on and on” lyric.
Broken Stones breaks the mould from the previous album, and harks back to some of the tuneful, catchy, almost soulful rock of the first album. It is an insistent, keyboard-backed simple melody and an infectious feel to its vocal. Out Of The Sinking is a cornerstone of the album, and a live favourite, full of alluring guitar work and affecting quieter pieces. It is a bit of a dark-ish track, though. The mood is brightened, however, by the light, funky pop of Pink On White Walls.
Whirlpool's End is the other comparatively extended track. It is full of dark lyrics and a dense, grungy guitar sound. All rather impenetrable, despite the “sha la la” chorus refrain. For some reason, Weller often plays it as an encore at live gigs. I have always been unsure as to why, as it is a bit of a bleak number, to be honest.
The sparse piano ballad, Wings Of Speed ends what has been, on the whole, a brighter album than the previous one.
The sound quality on the album has always been pretty good. A slight improvement in clarity than on Wild Wood.
The non-album material from the time includes some great covers in The Beatles' (John Lennon's) Sexy Sadie and The Temptations' I'd Rather Go Blind. The former captures the song's muscular cynicism and the latter finds Weller on fine soulful form, showing that he can cope with covering a soul classic. It's A New Day, Baby is an acoustic strummer that sort of puts me in mind of Ronnie Lane. My Whole World Is Falling Down is a BBC Session cover of the William Bell Stax single. Again, it is very well done, featuring some nice funky guitar. A Year Late is a folky, acoustic ballad, backed by strings and with one of those higher-pitched and plaintive Weller vocals.
Steam is an experiment by producer Brendan Lynch with deep dance beats and fuzzy guitar loops. It sort of harks back to Weller's flirtation with house music a few years earlier. As with many of these things, though, it probably goes on a few minutes too long. After four minutes I find I tire of its sonic homogeny. Finally, there is an enjoyable cover of Bob Dylan/The Band's I Shall Be Released. Another sumptuous bass lines drives it along and yet again, Weller does the business on the vocal. The guitar is very early Rod Stewart sounding too.
Heavy Soul Part 1/Peacock Suit/Up In Suze's Room/Brushed/Driving Nowhere/I Should Have Been There To Inspire You/Heavy Soul Part 2/Friday Street/Science/Golden Sands/As You Lean Into The Light/Mermaids
After the jazzy folk rock of his 1993 debut album, the rusticity of Wild Wood and the solid, rocking Stanley Road, Paul Weller went even heavier, to coin a phrase, with this 1997 album. The title summed it up perfectly, it was indeed Heavy Soul, full of deep bass lines and industrial strength drums. It is, in fact, one of my favourite Weller albums.
Guitars are to the fore on the clunky, powerful opener, Heavy Soul, Pt. 1 and Peacock Suit has an absolutely killer riffy opening and a catchy, upbeat feel throughout. It is a great choice for a single and remains a live set staple to this day. This track has some great drum sounds - drummer Steve White is impressive throughout the album - confident, inventive and powerful.
The acoustically-driven, psychedelic Up In Suze's Room is a chilled out, soulful number with some appealing reverberating sounds behind the chorus handsome lovely bass lines. Brushed is an intense, dense, grungy rocker, while Driving Nowhere again features some lilting bass sounds and another instantly catchy refrain.
I Should Have Been There To Inspire You is both soully and uplifting at the same time. It utilises some melodica at the end, an instrument usually used in dub reggae. Weller’s vocals on this album are as good as they have ever been here and there is a real power to the sound, mixed with a rich warmth, it is one of the finest sounding Weller albums, for me. For some, however, it was seen as an album that didn’t really go anywhere and it did not have the broader appeal that Stanley Road did, which was a shame, because I think it is excellent from beginning to end. Indeed, I prefer it to its predecessor.
The instrumental jam of Heavy Soul, Pt. 2 leads into the vibrant Friday Street, while the intoxicating Science brings the pace down with its rhythmic, Gil Scott-Heron-influenced bassy groove and tuneful appeal. The lovely, jazzy and funky groover, Golden Sands, has airs of Stanley Road’s rock tunes about it, and the gorgeous As You Lean Into The Light harks back to the wistful and bucolic Wild Wood. The commercial-ish Mermaids was a single and garnered quite a lot of radio play, but this was not a commercial album. It was soulful but intense. Not to be messed with.
The non-album tracks featured Brendan Lynch's studio experimentation of Eye Of The Storm, an instrumental enhanced by some swirling guitar and pounding drums; a cover of Bobby Bland's insistent Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City, which suits Weller's robust delivery down to the ground; Shoot The Dove, a piano-driven ballad in slow, reflective style of Hung Up; a lively psychedelic/funky/dance-ish instrumental in So You Want To Be A Dancer (I am not a huge fan of dance stuff, but I like this - great bass and guitar sounds); The Riverbank, a dreamy re-working of The Jam's Tales From The Riverbank and finally Brand New Start, a wistful, acoustically-driven piece of typical Weller fare. It was a piece of infectious rootsy folky blues that exemplified just where Weller was at in 1997-98.
As You Lean Into The Light also appeared in two versions. Its alternative one is done in stark, acoustic format, with no drums or bass.
Now came some covers. Bang Bang is a beguiling cover of Cher’s hit song, Weller does it really well, backed by a sublime bass line. John Lennon’s Instant Karma also suits Weller perfectly. The same applies to The Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down, so much so that it almost sounds like a Weller original.
He's The Keeper/Frightened/Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea/A Whale's Tail/Back In The Fire/Dust And Rocks/There's No Drinking After You're Dead/With Time And Temperance/Picking Up Sticks/Love-Less
This was very much seen as an album where Paul Weller was supposedly ‘treading water” or the he had “lost his muse” or whatever. Released in 2000, he had not put out an album since 1997’s Heavy Soul and people were beginning to think that maybe his renaissance as a solo artist begun in the mid 90s had ground to a halt. It is a shame that this album gets overlooked because of that perceived wisdom. It is quite an experimental piece of work, to be honest. Weller’s use of lush, dominating string orchestration for the first time is both brave and inventive. Indeed, he played several gigs around this time that utilised a large backing orchestra and they are excellent, giving a real enhancement to some of his more beautiful, melodic songs.
The album begins, however, with the comparatively unimaginative and industrial He's The Keeper, which harks back to some of the late sixties Traffic-influenced extended rock numbers on 1994’s Wild Wood. The ambience soon changes, though, with the Beatles-ish soul rock of Frightened and loved-up folkiness of Sweet Pea, Sweet Pea. This was Weller at his most unashamedly disarming and romantic. Another notable thing about this album was that Weller did, indeed, seem more than a little world-weary at times, in his lyrics. There is a cynicism to them, particularly with some references the music industry.
The allegorical A Whale's Tail has Weller in a almost Van Morrison-esque mode of negativity towards those who affected his professional life. The musically dreamy and trippy Back In The Fire is even more cynical in its content, but the sumptuous bass line sort of disguises it.
The folky, reflective and mournful Dust And Rocks features some beautiful, sweeping string orchestration as indeed does the similarly tender With Time And Temperance. There's No Drinking After You're Dead is, however, an insistent, pounding upbeat number, and again, its lyrically are less than positive, shall we say.
Picking Up Sticks is wistfully entrancing and the album’s closer, Love-Less is a most attractive, chilled out acoustic number to end what was a largely very understated album musically, but one that expressed some strong opinions over an inventive, often stimulating backing. Instead of listening to Stanley Road or Wild Wood again, if you want to dip into some turn of the millennium Paul Weller, why not give this a try.
There wasn't much non-album material from this period. Helioscentric is a bassy, psychedelic-influenced instrumental, featuring weird guitars, plenty of Eastern sounds and dance drums. The “underground remix” of There’s No Drinking After You’re Dead is an interesting variation of the track, full of sledgehammer pounding dance drums, funny tape loop sounds and nothing much to remind you if the original song. It is ok fir a few minutes, but is ultimately pretty much inessential. I keep waiting for the song to start though....
Going Places/A Bullet For Everyone/Leafy Mysteries/It's Written In The Stars/Who Brings Joy/Now The Night Is Here/Spring (At Last)/One X One/Bag Man/All Good Books/Call Me No. 5/Standing Out In The Universe/Illumination
This is probably one of the Paul Weller albums that I return to the least, for some reason. It is something of a "treading water" album, to a certain extent. The glory years of pastoral rock from 1993-1997 were long gone, and 2000's Heliocentric has functioned in a similar way to this one. The are a few experimental concessions to contemporary music, though, in the synthesised horn backing on It's Written In The Stars. It was an album unlikely to be a huge commercial success but it was one that would be still enjoyed by Weller's large army of steadfastly loyal fans. It was very laid-back in tempo and acoustically-backed as opposed to electric, although still employing a solid bass sound.
Going Places is a pleasant piece of acoustic rock, although the sound is a little undercooked in places. This is remedied in the upbeat, rocking thump of the cynical A Bullet For Everyone that has Weller rocking in reassuringly familiar fashion, but also backed by some driving seventies style organ. Leafy Mysteries is one of those catchy acoustic and bass-driven melodic numbers Weller had learnt to do so impressively, full of lyrics about "breezes" and "dappled orchards". It is another song about Weller being at peace with himself in relaxing, rural surroundings. He had been pushing this line for ten years now, odd for one who was originally so decidedly urban, Sounds From The Street and all that. To be fair, though, Tales From The Riverbank had been an early expression of his bucolic side.
The afore-mentioned It's Written In The Stars employs contemporary horn loop sampling techniques and uses that slightly irritating crackling, scratchy sound to accompany the programmed-sounding drums. The bass is great on it, though, and you have to admire Weller for his willingness to experiment on this track. The "horn" riff was later used a lot on an advertisement (I can't remember what for, but Weller must have done pretty well out of it). Who Brings Joy is a wistful, plaintive acoustically backed Nick Drake-ish number. It always amused me somewhat when Weller played songs like this live and his laddish, Jam-fan following would bray "wraaayyy" upon its introduction, as if they liked it. Of course they didn't, they were just waiting for a couple of Jam songs to be played. Either way, they stuck with him, year after year. Now The Night Is Here is a bassy but folky slow paced reflective number about peace and joy and being in love. This is a Weller very much in a good place. He is maturing gracefully, yes, the old fire hasn't completely gone out, but he is subtly adding "age appropriate" themes into his songwriting.
Spring (At Last) is an ambient, dreamy instrumental (I think they called it chill-out), with some Eastern sounds and flute doodling at the end. One X One, while still a laid-back song, in a sort of Groove Armada style, had a nice solid bass sound, although the guitar backing is still resolutely acoustic. Finally, near the end, Weller brings his electric guitar impressively crashing in. Despite that, apart from A Bullet For Everyone, all the material so far has been laid-back, low-key and relaxing in theme. The same applies to the rather fetching, shuffling Bag Man.
All Good Books has another sumptuous bass line and a catchy, dignified rhythm and it again certainly does not break the mood of the album thus far. Finally an electric opening riff introduces the acerbic, steady rock of Call Me No. 5, which sees a throaty Weller duetting with the even throatier Kelly Jones of The Stereophonics. It is an impressive, powerful number. The rock mood continues with the more typically Weller sound of Standing Out In The Universe . The song would not have been out of place on Wild Wood, in a Shadow Of The Sun sort of way. It has a searing guitar solo, enhanced by some sweeping strings.
Illumination is a sombre, mournful acoustic number to close this thoughtful, serious and intelligent album. Despite its good points, though, one felt that Weller had to inject a bit of new life into his subsequent albums in order to avoid stagnation. Thankfully, he did just that.
If I Could Only Be Sure/Wishing On A Star/Don't Make Promises/The Bottle/Black Is The Colour/Close To You/Early Morning Rain/One Way Road/Hercules/Thinking Of You/All Along The Watchtower/Birds
The thing to do when listening to these albums of cover versions is not to compare them to the originals, which are invariably better. This is definitely the case here, as most of Paul Weller’s takes, from 2004, on some of his favourite songs do not pass muster in comparison with the versions that made them famous. That doesn’t mean they are bad versions, though. They are not. It is an easy target to criticise such albums as the work of an artist struggling for anything else to write and release so he has to murder some classics. As I said, easy to level that accusation.
I prefer to just listen to Weller’s album and take it for what it is, Paul Weller singing some of his favourite songs in his style. Some of them come off well, some not so much. It has to be said at this point that the sound quality is excellent throughout this album.
His version of Nolan Porter’s Northern Soul song, If I Could Only Be Sure is excellent, with an addictive bass line and soulful groove. Gil Scott-Heron’s funky The Bottle is also well performed, as too is Gordon Lightfoot’s appealing country ballad, Early Morning Rain and Pete Seeger’s folk tune, Black Is The Colour.
Other competent showings are Tim Hardin’s upbeat, horn-driven country jazz of Don't Make Promises, Aaron Neville’s funky, potent Hercules and Oasis’s One Way Road (which cold have been written for Weller, it sounds so perfect for him). Neil Young’s Birds is solidly dealt with in Weller’s hands, while Sister Sledge’s Thinking Of You is far better than I thought it would be.
Rose Royce’s Wishing On A Star or Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower are perfectly listenable, but they don’t come too close to getting anywhere near the original. With the latter, of course, it is actually with Jimi Hendrix’s version that everyone compares it with. Weller’s one actually stands acceptable next to Dylan’s, in retrospect. The Carpenters' Close To You should, however, have been left on the cutting room floor, however good the original was.
Just enjoy the album as the work of a master craftsman just enjoying himself. His musicianship and vocal delivery can never really be questioned.
Blink And You'll Miss It/Paper Smile/Come On Let's Go/Here's The Good News/The Start Of Forever/Pan/All On A Misty Morning/From The Floorboards Up/I Wanna Make It All Right/Savages/Fly Little Bird/Roll Along Summer/Bring Back The Funk (Pts. 1 & 2)/The Pebble And The Boy
2005’s As Is Now is quite a folky album in places. Yes, there are some rockers, but there are also some lighter airy, acoustically-driven, almost jazzy, folky numbers. It is probably Paul Weller’s most jazz-influenced album to date, and, actually, one of his best. After this came the “experimental” and “challenging” albums. This is probably the last of the Paul Weller albums from the artist we had got to know in the nineties. Thereafter came all sorts of material. Here, he was still the solid Weller you could rely on, not trying to push any boundaries in the way he would do, post 2008. I admire his later work, but there was always something reassuring about these albums and actually ploughs several new furrows on here, to be honest.
The album gets off to a good start - Blink And You'll Miss It is punchy and rocking in a typical Weller fashion, full of strong vocals and choppy guitars, while Paper Smile is sharp, cutting and riffy, too.
The appealing Here's The Good News is whimsically jazzy, complete with Dixieland-style trumpet. The Start Of Forever is folky and laid-back, in the Wild Wood style, with a dreamy sort of vocal and solidly melodic bass line, featuring some great brass backing. It has a bizarre, raucous guitar bit right at the very end though.
Pan has Weller singing plaintively over a piano and choral backing about the god Pan, getting all mystical and bucolic, like Van Morrison. All On A Misty Morning is another Wild Wood era type slice of acoustic-influenced rock, albeit with a sumptuous, thumping bass line. Weller’s voice is excellent on this one - light and tender in places, strong in others. A fine performance.
From The Floorboards Up and Come On, Let's Go are the two really vibrant, pumping crowd-pleasing rockers on the album.
I Wanna Make It Alright features another of those melodic, higher-pitched vocals and a gentle, bassy jazz sound to it. Thee are some genuinely lovely melodies on this album, maybe more so than on any other Weller album. The driving Savages has some late sixties Beatles echoes in its backing and more convincing Weller vocals. Fly Little Bird is floaty and folky once more.
The shuffling, brush-drummmy Roll On Summer has Weller bluesily telling us that “old man river’s after you” getting jazzy and rustic again. It is a lovely track. Just when you are expecting more jazz-influenced stuff, Weller throws in a slab of funk in the upbeat and cookin' Bring Back The Funk. The Pebble And The Boy is a piano-driven ballad in the style of many of Weller’s “final track on the album” closers. Very enjoyable - one of my favourite Weller albums.
PHASE TWO (2006-2020)
Light Nights/22 Dreams/All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)/Have You Made Up Your Mind/Empty Ring/Invisible/Song For Alice/Cold Moments/The Dark Pages Of September/Black River/Why Walk When You Can Run/Push It Along/A Dream Reprise/Echoes Round The Sun/One Bright Star/Lullaby Für Kinder/Where'er Ye Go/God/111/Sea Spray/Night Lights
Paul Weller broke the mould of several albums in a row following a sort of similar format (although nowhere near as formulaic as the accusations that have been regularly levelled suggest, to be honest) and came up with this cornucopia of an album. It is a veritable "chocolate box" of different styles, ambiences, moods and musical themes. Yes, it is also somewhat sprawling and probably goes on just a few tracks too long. A cull of just a few songs would not have harmed it particularly. Yes, it is also indulgent, but what the hell, Weller felt like it. He felt like experimenting, and does so on the album to great effect.
There are some typical-(ish) pieces of Weller mid tempo laid-back, melodic rock numbers, such as the two catchy numbers of All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You) and Have You Made Up Your Mind. Also coming in to the tuneful, relaxing rock category are Cold Moments, Black River, and the folksily upbeat Push It Along. All of these have irresistible hooks making them instantly singalong and they are light in lyrical atmosphere, as opposed to intense and introspective. There are some harder, grungy, industrial moments as well, such as the frantic, almost punky 22 Dreams and the even more breakneck, raucous once again punky thrash of Echoes Round The Sun.
Invisible is a plaintive, piano-backed ballad the slows the pace down early on, although Weller's enunciation of "invisi-bowwl" is a little grating. Empty Ring is a dreamy, slow burning slightly dance-influenced chilled-out groove of a song that suffers a little from a muffled sound. Why Walk When You Can Run is a gentle acoustic strummed number while One Bright Star surprises the listener yet again as it dabbles in piano-driven, staccato Argentinian Tango rhythms.
There are acoustically-driven, Nick Drake-esque acoustic, dreamy bucolic numbers like Light Nights and the Celtic-influenced Where'er You Go. God and 111 find Weller going just a little bit Revolution 9, before the lively, real ale folky singalong of Sea Spray changes the ambience yet again. You can't stay still, in one mood, while listening to this album, it tosses your feelings around, as if on sea spray.
There are also, reflective, beautiful moments in Lullaby Für Kinder, Invisible and Song For Alice. What is for certain is that a lot of the Wild Wood/Stanley Road early seventies Traffic-influenced guitar-driven rock is decidedly absent. From this album onwards, Weller became a David Bowie-style changeling, dabbling in various themes, styles and approaches from album to album, always trying to push his own boundaries.
Because of the diverse, sprawling nature of this collection of songs, it does not make for a particularly easy listen, despite the relaxing nature of some of the material. This brave album is always a challenge. Maybe that is what Weller wanted. In fact, I am sure it is.
Non-album tracks from the period are the rather odd single (from 2006), Wild Blue Yonder, a semi-acoustic grungy stomp featuring the immortal line "let's go fucking in the wild blue yonder..."; Rip The Pages Up, an impressive grinding funky organ and drums-driven number; Love's Got Me Crazy, a trippy acoustic and somewhat sonorous ballad and a catchy, bassy instrumental in Big Brass Buttons. The riffs in this are very T.Rex-esque, Get It On style. There was also a suitable frenetic instrumental version of 22 Dreams.
The "b' side to Have You Made Up Your Mind was the gently steady but occasionally grungily riffy rock of Rise And Fall.
Moonshine/Wake Up The Nation/No Tears To Cry/Fast Car/Slow Traffic/Andromeda/In Amsterdam/She Speaks/Find the Torch/Burn The Plans/Aim High/Trees/Grasp And Still Connect/Whatever Next/7 & 3 Is The Striker's Name/Up The Dosage/Pieces Of A Dream/Two Fat Ladies
After the diverse, sprawling occasional genius that was 2008's 22 Dreams, Paul Weller changed tack slightly again with this raucous, badly-produced but lively and appealing album. In my opinion, the production is dense, grating and hissy. Maybe it is intended to be like that. Weller was intending to achieve a phrasing, industrial set of sound. There is lots of intentional "crackling" bits on it too, which always annoy me, particularly on Wake Up The Nation.
That said, there are some genuinely good, vibrant, upbeat songs on here. Moonshine is a rollicking, piano-driven short sharp rocker, while the afore-mentioned Wake Up The Nation is still a good, powerful song with a killer hook. No Tears To Cry has a sort of sixties, melodic pop sound, almost like The Walker Brothers in places.
Fast Car/Slow Traffic saw the long-awaited return of old Jam bandmate Bruce Foxton on bass, on a frenetic, breakneck punky thrash that had echoes, funnily enough, of Foxton's London Traffic from The Jam's This Is The Modern World. Great to hear that rubbery bass intro-ing the song, though. There are lot of short, pacy songs on here that are very difficult to categorise. It really is an extremely odd album in places. You get jazzy piano breaks popping up here and there, then a thumping clubby drum beat, followed by buzzsaw guitars and wailing organ. Beatles string orchestration surfaces on occasions. All sorts of strange stuff. Andromeda is another strange one, but with an oddly captivating hook to it. Again, though, it is over in two minutes. Yet again, also, the scratchy productions spoils it in many ways.
In Amsterdam is a bizarre, grating, high -pitched instrumental piece with jazzy undertones. At times I really struggle to wonder where this album is leading, yet at the same time, I find it sort of puzzling addictive. She Speaks is two more minutes of ethereal, mournful, airy, muddy vocals from Weller. It is rather like an album of potential songs that never quite get there, unlike those on 22 Dreams, which is a far more realised piece of work.
Find The Torch/Burn The Plans is longer, a more fulfilled, punchy number, but, once more, despite its great hook, the sound is awful, rendering it almost unlistenable, and my sound system is a good one too. Aim High has me relieved to hear some rich, warm, funky sounds on what is the best song on the album so far. It still has sound problems though, but it is comparatively an improvement. The song features some punchy horns and some swirling, jazzy orchestration. A clue to exactly how bad these songs sound, however, is that on their live versions on the Find The Torch DVD box set, they sound immeasurably better. I have seen Weller in concert many times, and he played material from this album at The Brighton Centre in 2010 and it was truly superb.
I understand what Weller was trying to achieve on Trees, a comparatively lengthy tribute to his parents divided into three parts, but it wanders into almost a haughty self-parody at times and just sounds clunky, clumsy and ill-conceived. It saddens me to write this because I completely "get" the sentiments of the song. I think the lyrics are great. Grasp And Still Connect is a jaunty, likeable upbeat song with some reasonable passages somewhat spoiled by some deafening orchestration and weird sixties organ noises. Whatever Next is a short instrumental, that, bizarrely, has some of the best bass lines on the album. 7 & 3 Is The Striker's Name (quite what the title means I am not sure!) is a pounding, beguiling number that has an odd attraction. Again, the kitchen sink has been thrown in, sonically, without any real need, as far as I am concerned. Up The Dosage is another refreshingly bassy pumper, that goes some way to restoring the album's quality in these final few tracks.
Pieces Of A Dream starts with that awful, scratchy background noise again, and at times it is not a bad song. But it goes all over the place at times, never getting anywhere. Two Fat Ladies has a punky, raucous intensity but a muffled vocal, again.
I have to apologise for being so negative about this album, but I just see it as half-baked and not getting anywhere near the potential that some of the songs had places. I feel 22 Dreams, Sonik Kicks and certainly Saturn's Pattern and A Kind Revolution are all far superior. I admire the desire to experiment from Weller, but this time I feel it failed, coming over as the work of a mad professor and his totally bonkers production assistant. His name? One Simon Dine. Sorry, Simon. No matter how many times I listen to this, it always sounds terrible. I play it every year in the hope that somehow it will have changed. It never does.
Green/The Attic/Kling I Klang/Sleep Of The Serene/By The Waters/That Dangerous Age/Study In Blue/Dragonfly/When Your Garden's Overgrown/Around The Lake/Twilight/Drifters/Paperchase/Be Happy Children
A strangely addictive album, this. In many ways an improvement, certainly sound-wise, from the often tinny, overloud Wake Up The Nation. Here, the sound quality is much more pleasing on the ear, warmer, more bassy, less clashing and is the better for it. It is a stylistically diverse melting pot of an album and I have always really liked it.
It is pretty impossible categorise the music, actually, it is like nothing Weller had done previously, although there are some recognisable traits. The album begins with a short, sharp attack of the strange noises reminiscent of Krautrock band Neu! and odd lyrics of Green, the infuriatingly whistleable Britpop gone berserk of The Attic and the frantic guitar attack of Kling I Klang (whatever that means). Rather like on Wild Wood, there is an instrumental interlude in Sleep Of The Serene before we get a more typical, laid-back, bucolic acoustic Weller number in By The Waters. It could almost be a Style Council song too.
That Dangerous Age is a return to the furious, upbeat 2012 pop of the first three songs. Almost like some of the vocal material on David Bowie’s Low or Heroes. In many ways, though, in its experimental feel, this album is Weller’s Station To Station. The standout track, in my view, is the mesmerising seven minute “jazz-reggae” of Study In Blue, with Weller sharing vocals with his wife Hannah. Half way through you get a dub-style interlude, complete with mega-heavy bass, melodica, tape loop sound effects and scratching sounds. Add to this some trademark Weller lyrics about gardens, bees, tulips and white cats. Even with The Jam, he liked a bit of this (Tales From The Riverbank). Dragonfly is equally impressive, with its rumbling bass and keyboard intro, catchy melody and Weller’s soulful, dreamy vocal. At this point, the album seems to just get better and better.
When Your Garden's Overgrown continues the enjoyment, a sort of Kinks-type song for the 21st Century, great lyrics but also packed with strange electronic sounds. Around The Lake sees Weller assisted by Noel Gallagher and it is Oasis-like in its brash, loud guitar assault. It is this album’s Echoes Round The Sun from 22 Dreams, which also featured Gallagher. It morphs into the almost 60s Beatles-ish psychedelic sound of the swirling, dense Drifters via the short sound effects of Twilight.
Paperchase is an odd, brooding, insistent, bass-driven mournful song that again defies categorisation. Finally, Weller delves into mainstream soul with a rather sickly song for his kids, Be Happy Children that sees him adopting a Marvin Gaye singing style, of a sort. A perplexing end to a perplexing but stimulating album.
The non-album tracks from the period were the dreamy, chilled-out vibe of Starlite and the jaunty acoustic folk of Devotion. Both of these were tracks that had different ambiences to the material on the album, showing just what a diverse artist Weller was at the time.
Also dating from this album's sessions were the vaguely Motown-ish, organ-backed The Piper which features a fine, soulful Weller vocal, lovely bass line and a bit of a retro Style Council sound; the somewhat impenetrable, Eastern-influenced and psychedelic Portal To The Past; the scratchy riffs and muffled drums of We Got A Lot (a track that has grown on me) and the ethereally smoky folk of Lay Down Your Weary Burden.
White Sky/Saturns Pattern/Going My Way/Long Time/Pick It Up/I'm Where I Should Be/Phoenix/In The Car.../These City Streets
After the adventurous but somewhat sprawling albums of 22 Dreams and Wake Up The Nation, and the short sharp experimental electro-pop of Sonik Kicks, Paul Weller returned with this nine track, concise, more traditional “album” format. Because of that it feels that it has more of a cohesive feel. He had also dispensed with producer Simon Dine, thank goodness, as far as I was concerned.
The music is, in many places, just as experimental - all sorts of noises, tape loops, psychedelic guitar, dreamy folky periods, Northern Soul stylings, Beach Boys piano, voice changes, mood changes within the same track. All makes for something of an intriguing cornucopia.
White Sky is a combustible, noisy opener, with doctored, muffled vocals, crashing drums and some piercing guitar riffs. Saturns Pattern benefits from an addictive bass line, a melodious hook and some rich, warm sound.
Going My Way starts like the Beach Boys in the early 70s and then morphs into a typical Weller in the 2000s chorus. Long Time is a short burst of 70s glam rock riffery behind a more traditional Weller vocal. For one who spent years slagging off David Bowie, Weller now comes up with a track that crosses Suffragette City with Speed Of Life as he does interviews saying how great Bowie was! Indeed, he names his son Bowie.
The tuneful, enjoyable semi-funky Pick It Up and the hypnotic I'm Where I Should Be, with its strangely catchy “dum-de-dum” chorus, are both highly rhythmic and appealing, the latter with its 60s psychedelic influences, both musically and vocally. Both have an air of Study In Blue from Sonik Kicks about them. As indeed does the intro and the bucolic lyrics of the beautiful, intoxicating Phoenix. Some great jazzy parts on here. Lovely bass too - just a simply superb track, up there with anything Weller has done in his solo career. This album just gets better and better.
In The Car and These City Streets both show a bit of Kraftwerk-style ambient electro-rock influences. The former has a wistful, light acoustic intro before blasting into a heavy, drums pounding intense, dark period about spending “summer nights driving round the M25”, then it goes back to the lighter part again before booming back. It takes a while to appreciate, but it is worth persisting with. Some excellent guitar at the end. It segues into the introductory noises of These City Streets and some more recognisable early Weller phases. Almost soulful in parts, it meanders us to the end of this interesting album, finishing off with some Uh Huh Oh Yeah/Can You Heal Us Holy Man synth bursts in the final minute, harking back to his first two albums from over twenty years earlier.
There are so many moods and influences within all these tracks, though, that it is pretty much impossible to analyse this album. It is quite unique. One of Weller’s best albums in many ways. Completely uncommercial, it will probably never be mentioned as such. Each listen reveals more, as I said, it gets better and better, which is always a good sign.
The sound on this album is the best on a Paul Weller offering for many a year. Full, bassy and warm. The complete opposite to the tinny aural attack of Wake Up The Nation. A change of producer may well have been the difference.
There were two non-album tracks - a strong, bassy cover of Jr. Walker & The All-Stars' (I'm A Road Runner) and the sleepy, folky, acoustic shuffle of Dusk Till Dawn. A 'b' side from the I'm Where I Should Be single was Open Road, an attractive acoustic, drum and bass number with gentle rhythms and a pleasant folky vibe. Also knocking around was the similar I Spy, another song full of slightly hippy, dreamy ambience.
A stand-alone single from 2015 was Crossing Over - a spacey, thumping dance-inspired number that would have given another different mood if it had been on the actual album. It has a great slightly hidden bass line. Weller was really quite prolific at this time. Another 'b' side that got hidden away was the psychedelic bluesy folk of Sun Goes.
Some stand-alone tracks that dated from the period 2013-2014, before this album were the riffy, psychedelic grunge attack of Flame-Out, which seemed to be an early prototype of White Sky (with its "king's highway" lyric); the muscular but folky grind of The Olde Original that found Weller sounding vaguely like Jethro Tull and the quirky, by no means instantly appealing single Brand New Toy. Its odd lyrics and staccato, jumpy beat take a bit of getting used to.
Woo Se Mama/Nova/Long Long Road/She Moves With The Fayre/The Cranes Are Back/Hopper/New York/One Tear/Satellite Kid/The Impossible Idea
After four diverse and somewhat experimental albums, Paul Weller went a little bit “back to basics” with this one, from 2017. There were quite a few tracks that were very redolent of his halcyon days of Stanley Road and Heavy Soul in the mid 1990s - his “modfather” days as the darling “elder statesman” of “BritPop”. There was also a gentle, comfortable ambience to it, emphasising the fact that Paul Weller was nearly 60 when he composed this album. Along with this is a certain denseness and lyrical impenetrability that requires repeated listens.
It kicks off with a lively number - the strangely-named Woo Se Mama has airs of the rockier numbers from Weller’s mid-90s output about it, plus hints of Betty Wright’s Shoorah Shoorah in the chorus. It is a pleasing, rumbustious opener - solid and gritty, with some nice trippy, jazzy keyboards at the end. It has riffy echoes of Peacock Suit in many places and is definitely one of Weller's most pleasingly rocking songs for quite a while.
Up next, Nova is another powerful industrial, murky rocker, augmented by some punchy, brassy horns and some cutting guitar from Weller. His vocal is, at times, eerily late 60s in tone. The track has a brooding, haunting ambience to it. Long Long Road is a deliciously orchestrated, typical Weller slow number, with some convincing backing vocals and organ. Its atmosphere is sombrely evocative. She Moves With The Fayre is a staccato, slightly funky number with a wistful, floaty vocal that sounds as if it should be on 2005’s As Is Now album. Like many tracks on this album, it takes time, but it gets into your bloodstream eventually.
The Cranes Are Back is one of those bucolic, peaceful numbers that Weller excelled in during the 1990s. It never gets out of second gear, but it doesn’t need to. There is a deep, warm bass line on it. Quite what it is about I am not sure. The equally lyrically perplexing Hopper ploughs the same, slow, reflective but potent furrow. It has an addictive rhythm and sort of gets into your system, particularly when the brass comes in. New York is a swirling, psychedelic-style number with some choppy guitar underpinning it. It also has a hypnotic organ and bass passage that I love. Again, its rhythm gently takes hold of you.
One Tear is a trippy, chill-out number that starts with a delicious bass line and is another slow-burning groove. The vocal duties are shared with a throaty-sending Boy George, would you believe. There is some seriously funky guitar at the end of this. It is a great track, not instant, but a grower.
The dreamy, rhythmic Satellite Kid is one of those tracks for which each listen reveals more. It features some excellent pounding drums and searing guitar, ending in a sort of loose jam fashion. The Impossible Idea ends the album on a slightly laid-back, rustic-style pleasant number in that Wild Wood style. There are hints of jazz in places.
This was a good, beguiling but not a truly great album. As I said earlier, there are hidden depths to this offering that means several listens are necessary. Refreshingly for Weller, it has a great sound quality (which certainly Wake Up The Nation did not have). It is one that begs more listens but, however many you give it, it always has a little bit of a veneer of sleepiness about it. That said, there are time when I really enjoy it. It is a nine o'clock on a winter's Monday evening album. A Weller album always challenges, he always manages to keep his work fresh and intriguing, I have to love him for that.
The non-album track, Alpha, is a sonorous, pounding, electro-style instrumental, essential only for completists, like me, who duly bought it. It does feature some good, psychedelic guitar in places, though. It is completely incongruous to the overall ambience of the album, however.
The Soul Searchers/Glide/Mayfly/Gravity/Old Castles/What Would He Say?/Aspects/Bowie/Wishing Well/Come Along/Books/Movin' On/May Love Travel With You/White Horses
As is Paul Weller’s habit, he enjoys producing albums of differing natures. This is certainly one of those. It is an album based around an acoustic, folk ambience. It is something he has certainly dabbled in before, notably on Wild Wood, and he has always had a bit of bucolic in his soul. However, this time it is the entire album. It is delivered in a mellow, laid-back fashion. If you are expecting The Changing Man or Wake Up The Nation, you won’t get it. Weller, unusually, changes his vocal style from track to track, and this is taking a bit of getting used to for me. Another new thing is that he is using other lyricists on some songs - Conor O’Brien and Erland Cooper. I have to admit an ignorance of these two folk and folk rock artists, respectively.
The Soul Searchers is a lively, melodic opener, with a fetching acoustic guitar intro and a relaxing, folky, but slightly contrived-sounding Weller vocal. The song breaks out into a lovely bass and low-key drum rhythm and is most appealing, with a jazzy keyboard part. The instrumentation on this is top notch. It just takes a bit of time to get used to Weller’s voice. Is it deliberately high-pitched, like Bruce Springsteen’s on parts of Devils And Dust, or is it just the way it is going as he ages? Either way, it is a great track with hints of If I Could Only Make You Love Me from Studio 150. Another thing that hits you also is just how good the sound quality is, something that has not always been the case on Weller albums.
Glide is a wistful acoustic and strings mellow number that just sort of washes over you. Mayfly has a deep, warm guitar intro and a more typical Weller vocal delivery over some folky percussion backing. There is some nice bluesy guitar on this one too. Gravity actually has echoes of some of the material on 22 Dreams but it is given a sumptuous string backing here. Impressively meditative. Old Castles has a shuffling, jazzy backing and has Weller harking back to Heliocentric in his vocal style.
What Would He Say? has a Burt Bacharach-esque relaxing brass solo that surfaces a couple of times and an “easy listening” melody with dreamy lyrics. Aspects is a gentle, Nick Drake-ish bucolic tender ballad. Again, Weller’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste on this song. As for the song Bowie, I have already seen it hailed as Weller’s tribute to David Bowie. Apparently, though, Erland Cooper is the lyricist. I have to say, though, I find the whole Weller/Bowie thing a bit odd. He spent years slagging Bowie off, then a few years ago claims to be a great fan of Low and goes and names his son “Bowie”. Always a man of often incomprehensible contradictions, Weller.
Wishing Well is a tender acoustic, very folky, reflective number and Come Along ploughs a similar furrow. Books has some mysterious, Eastern-sounding backing and again it is so laid-back as to be almost comatose. It has some beguiling string instrumentation to it, with some excellent, evocative violin.
Movin' On is a beautifully orchestrated number, with some winning percussion and a soulful, expressive vocal from Weller, more in the style we have come to expect back from the nineties. It has some lovely brass parts near the end. A delightful track. One of the best on the album. I have to say, though, that by now I am getting a bit relaxed-out, man. Contemporary albums are often over an hour long, contains fourteen or so tracks like this one. Sometimes I think the old seventies-style forty minute, ten track offerings have more effect.
May Love Travel With You is a bit like Where’er You Go from 22 Dreams, but with a massive, neo-classical orchestration. Weller has certainly never done anything like this before. White Horses is a plaintive, quiet closer with Weller again adopting a higher pitch to his voice in places. It breaks out into a heavier passage in its middle.
I am writing this on first listening. I suspect this is an album that will require repeated listens. I feel that I will rarely listen to it in one sitting, however. It is too much in the same mood for too long for me. Its tracks will probably be played in a “Paul Weller random” playlist. It is then they will be more effective, personally, as opposed to one chilled-out song after the other. Others may love to sit taking it easy for an hour or so, though, late at night. It is, I feel, a grower, that seeps into your consciousness. Three plays or so later and it certainly is captivating me.
Fair play to Weller for diversifying yet again, however. He is an artist still developing and evolving, all these years later. You can’t argue with that.
The Soul Searchers, Aspects, and Mayfly are given thumping clubby remixes on the "deluxe edition", which are interesting. I certainly enjoyed the funky (in places) version of Mayfly. Glide and Old Castles have instrumental versions too.
Mirror Ball/Baptiste/Old Father Thyme/Village/More/On Sunset/Equanimity/Walkin'/Earth Beat/Rockets
Paul Weller is back, after his gentle acoustic adventure, with his most ostensibly soul-influenced piece of work since his Style Council days (and possibly his debut solo album). Now looking like a cross between Iggy Pop, Johnny Winter and a leathery old Native American, Weller goes back on occasions to some of his formative influences - Curtis Mayfield and Philadelphia soul in particular - as well as continuing to dip into a more contemporary groove on a more than a few occasions. It seems to be the stock comment on the album to say that it is a "soul" album. For me, it is not, although it clearly has some soul influences. First and foremost, however, it is a Weller album and it is my favourite album of his since Sonic Kicks. Whatever the music is categorised as, it is really invigorating, refreshing even, to hear Weller sounding so soulfully alive. Although the album's general feel is retro, it is a modern retro, if that doesn't sound too contradictory. Anyway, let's get to the songs.
Mirror Ball opens the album with some recognisably dreamy, floaty keyboards and distant, echoey Weller vocals that take one back to the 22 Dreams period. After two minutes it breaks out into a thumping but still spacey slowed-down dance-ish beat and the attendant experimental noises are similar to those used on the Sonik Kicks album. Although there are nods to Weller's past in this, it is actually quite an adventurous, inventive number - certainly no seventies throwbacks here as yet. Having said that, its many vicissitudes are a little grating in places. In many ways, this opening track stands as an example in the "is this a retro album or not" argument. At nearly eight changeable minutes long, it is definitely not a three minute piece of breezy pop. It is also probably the album's most disjointed and least impressive track, it frustrates as it never seems to get anywhere - as soon as it gets onto a groove it changes, and not for the better, having the feel of a studio demo about it. As an album opener, it is somewhat underwhelming.
The short, punchy "Weller soul" of Baptiste is more like what one would expect, with its very mid nineties vibe. It could easily have been from the Heavy Soul or Heliocentric periods. I have to say that it is a bit surprising to hear Weller, a great one for moving forward, laying down a track like this again. Something about its beat puts me in mind of Betty Wright's Clean Up Woman, confirmed upon hearing the instrumental version of the song. Old Father Tyme is in the style of the Saturns Pattern/A Kind Revolution albums, with some more late nineties echoes in there and it features a nice bit of semi-funky guitar/keyboard interplay. Its hazy moments again put me in mind of the 22 Dreams album. It is one of those tracks that does pass me by it a bit, however, especially when the following pair are so good. That said, several listens in and it sticks in the mind more.
Village has a gently soulful drums, bass, acoustic guitar and lush strings backing, a great vocal from Weller and a soul atmosphere that merges seventies Philadelphia soul with contemporary artists like Deacon Blue (for me, anyway, on the chorus's catchy melody). This as genuinely soulful as the old Style Councillor has sounded for many a year and as a confirmed long-time aficionado of this side of his material, I am loving hearing stuff like this and this irresistibly catchy number is probably the album's best track. More has a rhythmic, infectious backbeat and a real Style Council feel in its vocal. The featured French female co-vocal gives it that old Style Council European café vibe, something we hadn't heard in Weller's music for years. Check out the mid-song guitar and strings interplay and that syncopated, jazzy beat. Really impressive. It is as if Weller has gone right back to 1987, surprisingly, for one who normally looks forward as opposed to retrospectively, as I mentioned earlier. The woodwind and extended brass parts near the end hark back to Weller's debut solo album from 1992. Once again, this is lifting my spirits higher and higher. Nice one Weller, seriously, man (as he might say these days). The sound quality is top notch too, not something that could be said for all of Weller's output (I'm thinking of Wake Up The Nation here).
Weller has always liked a bit of acoustic-powered "chill-out" and he delivers some here in the vaguely (and I mean vaguely) Bowie-esque On Sunset. Its lush strings and subtle bass together with Weller's vocal make it a most appealing track. Incongruous, I know, but its sweeping strings remind me of Bruce Springsteen's recent Western Stars work. There are a few notes from Simply Red's Holding Back The Years floating around too.
Equanimty is the album's most quirky moment, merging a Madness-esque downhome Cockney charm with a sort of pre-war Berlin bierkeller stomp. Would you believe the violin on this is played by a blast from the past in Slade's Jim Lea, almost replicating the Coz I Luv You solo. Blimey, it's 1971 again. The jaunty Walkin' sees the ambience return to a more recognisable Weller groove, once again with clear nineties echoes and, unusually for a Weller recording, a bit of jazzy saxophone.
Earth Beat utilises some laid-back contemporary chill-out spacey keyboard sounds on a blissed-out beginning before it breaks out into a wonderful piece of Weller soul/rock. Great keyboards, great drums, great guitar, great vocals. The expressive strings and inventive other sounds on this track are really beguiling. It swirls and spins all round your head. It is, along with the opener, the album's trippiest moment. The ten-track version of the album ends with the lovely, gentle bassy tones of Rockets. Weller's plaintive voice gives this tender track bags of atmosphere that Weller aficionados will love and his detractors no doubt loathe. Indeed, that is probably an apt point to end on. If you like Weller you will love this, simple as.
The bonus tracks on the extended release are the spacey keyboards and infectious bass instrumental dance grooves of 4th Dimension; the lively but vocally a bit odd Ploughman and the bucolic acoustic sleepiness of I'll Think Of Something. The instrumental is probably the best of these three, but none of them could be described as essential.
After disbanding The Jam and idling around in white jeans and sunglasses reading French newspapers with The Style Council for several years, Paul Weller resurfaced with his artistic credibility in considerable doubt in the early nineties. He was now a solo artist playing contemporary laid-back, often bucolic in tone, rock music but with a definite retrospective slant to late sixties/early seventies Traffic, Nick Drake, The Small Faces, Humble Pie amongst others. Weller gigged at small venues and soon his old, loyal fan base were back with him (they had never really left) and he gained a new army of younger fans who hailed him as "The Modfather". The albums this compilation derives its material from are the first four solo ones - Paul Weller; Wild Wood; Stanley Road and Heavy Soul. These albums saw Weller at his rockiest but also as a man who spent much of his time taking it easy in the Surrey countryside and writing songs that reflected an artist who had found considerable peace of mind, for once. It didn't last too long, however, because Weller has always been a restless individual who strives to push himself on to other things after a while. He doesn't (and didn't) stay in one place musically, but these four albums were pretty representative of that early phase of his solo career.
Unfortunately the songs do not appear chronologically, but the highlights are:-
Out Of The Sinking - a live favourite, full of alluring guitar work and affecting quieter pieces. It is a bit of a dark-ish and dense track, though. The riffy rock of Peacock Suit is thoroughly irresistible, however, with Weller on superb, growling vocal form. Sunflower has a riffy, late 60s Beatles intro and is a rocky, tough edged track. Despite the guitar attack, lyrically it is concerned with sunflowers and "sunshower kisses" that shows Weller's peaceful, pastoral direction. The Weaver has a strong opening riff which heralds another guitar-driven 60s r'n'b-influenced number with more pastoral lyrics. Who would have thought Weller would be going about "the weaver of your dreams" like something off a 70s "prog rock" concept album? Certainly not the man himself.
Wild Wood sees Weller at his most lazy, hot afternoon, pastoral best. This mellow song is well-loved by fans and features just Weller and his acoustic guitar and has a few hints of Neil Young about it. It is blissfully atmospheric and in its urging to escape from the urban "traffic's boom", thoroughly appealing. A highpoint of the album is the ballad You Do Something To Me, usually featured in concert dvds with shots of “loved-up” couples gazing into each others’ eyes as the sun goes down. It is a good song, and one that is liked by not just Weller fans.
Uh Huh Oh Yeh has strong redolence of Traffic’s early 70s output with its bass/saxophone fade out, while the beautiful white soul groove of Above The Clouds are both examples of Weller's new gentle, sensitive soul/rock as played on his debut solo album. Into Tomorrow is the most funk rock of the material, with an identifiable funk hook, but that sort of thing is few and far between amidst all the loved up reflection and 60s -influenced rock.
The commercial-ish soully Mermaids was a hit single and garnered quite a lot of radio play, Broken Stones also has a laid-back, melodic and soulful feel to it. Probably the most important song on the album is the rocking, riffy The Changingman, sees Weller telling the world that he is, indeed, attempting to change his image, musically, at least. He did just that.