Friday, 8 March 2019

Paul Weller - Other Aspects: Live At The Royal Festival Hall (2019)


  

Released March 2019

Running time 95.51

If I am brutally honest, I have to admit that I was not expecting an awful lot from this Paul Weller Live album when I read the promotional blurb about it - Weller sitting on a stool at The Royal Festival Hall back by a full orchestra. Hmmm. While I like his acoustic, bucolic numbers and enjoyed his latest album in that style - "True Meanings", I wasn't sure I wanted to hear him do twenty-five numbers from his back catalogue in the same fashion, (admittedly, eleven of the songs are from the latest album). I also worried that the orchestra may "overblow" things a bit - giving songs big sweeping string backings when they don't need it.

I have to say that I am most pleasantly surprised by the album. It is a revelation and works perfectly. Weller and his many musicians have got this just right. It is an absolutely superb live album. It is obviously different to his many other live performances but it is up there with his best. Firstly, the sound quality and musicianship is breathtakingly good. The bass and drums are excellent and the orchestra contributes all sorts of different instrumental interjections, not just strings, augmenting the songs in fine style. Secondly, Weller's voice is most impressive, showing considerable versatility and musicality.

TRACK LISTING

1. One Bright Star
2. Glide
3. The Soul Searchers
4. Boy About Town
5. Have You Ever Had It Blue
6. What Would He Say?
7. Wild Wood
8. Country
9. Aspects
10. Strange Museum
11. Amongst Butterflies
12. Old Castles
13. Gravity
14. Where'er Ye Go
15. A Man Of Great Promise
16. Mayfly
17. Private Hell
18. Tales From The Riverbank
19. Movin' On
20. Long Long Road
21. Hopper
22. White Horses
23. Books
24. You Do Something To Me
25. May Love Travel With You                      

The first song, "One Bright Star", from "22 Dreams" sets the tone for the album, employing an adventurous tango-style beat, some excellent instrumentation and a fine brass solo at the end. "Glide" and "The Soul Searchers" from the latest album are delivered beautifully, possibly even better than on their original studio versions. "Glide" is sung in a less shaky voice than on the original. There is a lovely subtle bass from Andy Lewis on both. Then it is time for a Jam cover - the sixties, mod-ish romp of "Boy About Town" from 1980's "Sound Affects" is given a jazzy big band-ish arrangement. Surely this won't work. But it does, for me anyway, giving the song a completely new lease of life. This jazzy style would suit some of The Style Council material, I am thinking to myself, and what is up next? The gorgeous "Have You Ever It Blue", which is just sumptuous, full of the rhythmic swing of the original. Great stuff.

"What Would He Say?" from the latest album has a Bacharach horn solo and a delicious laid-back rhythm. Weller's vocal is more than acceptable too. The audience seem to be eating this up. Weller's fans would appear to accept what he does with steadfast loyalty. Whether they truly like it is open to question, but I certainly do. It casts new light on old numbers and gives us the new numbers in a way that enhances them from their studio versions, in my opinion.


"Wild Wood", that old bucolic favourite from 1994 has Weller joined by another male vocalist and features some nice flute. and subtle jazzy guitar. The enticing summery, sleepy feeling of the original is not lost. "Country" from the "Wild Wood" album is resonant and atmospheric. The contemporary "Aspects" continues in the same gentle, acoustic/strings fashion. It really is performed beautifully. I cannot stress that enough, and probably have done already, but this is top quality. In so many ways this is Weller reaching a real peak in his artistic career. Who would have thought it back in those sweaty, raucous Jam gigs in 1977? I was there and I certainly wouldn't.

This brief, acoustic part of the set comes to an end, as some funky, shuffling drums introduce "Strange Museum" from his debut solo album. Brass, piano and sixties-style organ add even more to it and it is another track that sounds even more impressive in its new clothes. Weller's vocal is deliciously soulful too. The punchy horns introduce "Amongst Butterflies" from the same album. I always liked this one and it is given a more brassy makeover here. Then it is back to the beguiling, smoky jazz feel of "Old Castles" and the acoustic, tender tones of "Gravity". Lyrically similar is "Where'er Ye Go" from "22 Dreams". The two songs complement each other, sort of like two parts of the same song. The latter features some nice violin backing.

The Style Council return once more in the catchy but sad groove of "A Man Of Great Promise". It is slowed down in pace ever so slightly from its original. Beautifully nostalgic. "Mayfly", from the current album, has a solid, soulful beat to it and slight hints of "Broken Stones" from "Stanley Road" in its organ backing. The audience start clapping along. Odd to imagine a Weller crowd, sitting in their Festival Hall seats, politely clapping their hands in tune. They will have been pleased with the next one - the acerbic "Private Hell" from The Jam's "Setting Sons" is given a haunting, bassy slow pace overhaul. Again, you wouldn't think that this would work, but once again it does, very well. It becomes a brooding, mysterious and almost spooky number. Some Stax-y horns punch in at the end too. The last Jam song of the night is "Tales From The Riverbank" and it is given an intoxicating performance. It always was a good song and the full band/orchestra treatment suits it perfectly.  Mightily impressive.


Now it is the beginning of the final home straight. The infectious rhythms of "Movin' On", the soul of  "Long Long Road" and the brassy attack of "Hopper". On the latter, Weller whoops, almost Van Morrison-style. As is often the way with Weller live shows, though, after a lively song, he then does a very subdued one, and he does so here with the quiet, thoughtful "White Horses". It does end on a full orchestra, plus drums finale, however. A rousing, stately way to end the main part of this uplifting set.  Encores come with the slightly Eastern and Celtic-influenced and folky "Books", then 1995's loved-up classic "You Do Something To Me" and finally, the elegiac, Van Morrison-esque "May Love Travel With You".

I am sorry to have blathered on for paragraphs, track by track, causing you to lose your will to live. If you have skipped that, just read this bit - I have all Paul Weller's live recordings and, in many ways, this presents a very strong case to be his finest. It is the product of an artist who has got where he has always wanted to go. Not that Weller will see it that way, as he always strives for further perfection. No need. He has achieved it.

A-

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