Friday, 26 October 2018

Paul Weller - Illumination (2002)




Released September 2002

Recorded at Black Barn Studio

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.

TRACK LISTING

1. Going Places
2. A Bullet For Everyone
3. Leafy Mysteries
4. It's Written In The Stars
5. Who Brings Joy
6. Now The Night Is Here
7. Spring (At Last)
8. One X One
9. Bag Man
10. All Good Books
11. Call Me No. 5
12. Standing Out In The Universe
13. Illumination

"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 "wraaay" 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.

C+

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