Monday, 30 December 2019

Paul Weller - Phase One (1993-2005)



The albums covered here are:-

Paul Weller (1993)
Wild Wood (1994)
Stanley Road (1995)
Heavy Soul (1997)
Heliocentric (2000)
Illumination (2002)
Studio 150 (2004)
and As Is Now (2005)

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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PAUL WELLER (1993)

1. Uh Huh Oh Yeh
2. I Didn't Mean To Hurt You
3. Bull-Rush
4. Round And Round
5. Remember How We Started
6. Above The Clouds
7. Clues
8. Into Tomorrow
9. Amongst Butterflies
10. The Strange Museum
11. Bitterness Rising
12. Kosmos                

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. 

  

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WILD WOOD (1994)

1. Sunflower
2. Can You Heal Us Holy Man
3. Wild Wood
4. Instrumental One
5. All The Pictures On The Wall
6. Has My Fire Really Gone Out?
7. Country
8. Instrumental Two
9. 5th Season
10. The Weaver
11. Instrumental Three
12. Foot Of The Mountain
13. Shadow Of The Sun
14. Holy Man (Reprise)
15. Moon On Your Pyjamas                         

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.

   

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STANLEY ROAD (1995)

1. The Changingman
2. Porcelain Gods
3. Walk On Gilded Splinters
4. You Do Something To Me
5. Woodcutter's Son
6. Time Passes
7. Stanley Road
8. Broken Stones
9. Out Of The Sinking
10. Pink On White Walls
11. Whirlpool's End
12. Wings Of Speed   

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 WokingSurrey. 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 WeaverTime 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.

 

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HEAVY SOUL (1997)

1. Heavy Soul Part 1
2. Peacock Suit
3. Up In Suze's Room
4. Brushed
5. Driving Nowhere
6. I Should Have Been There To Inspire You
7. Heavy Soul Part 2
8. Friday Street
9. Science
10. Golden Sands
11. As You Lean Into The Light                   
12. Mermaids          

After the jazzy folk rock of his 1993 debut album, the rusticity of Wild Wood and the solid, rocking Stanley RoadPaul 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.

Also worthy of mention are some songs from the otherwise fallow year of 1998. Right Underneath It is a tough, mid-pace Weller rock number once again very much in the style if his material from the time. It would not have been out of place on Stanley Road.

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.

 

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HELIOCENTRIC (2000)

1. He's The Keeper
2. Frightened
3. Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea
4. A Whale's Tail
5. Back In The Fire
6. Dust And Rocks
7. There's No Drinking After You're Dead
8. With Time And Temperance
9. Picking Up Sticks
10. 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 TemperanceThere'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....

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ILLUMINATION (2002)

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         

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.



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STUDIO 150 (2004)

1. If I Could Only Be Sure
2. Wishing On A Star
3. Don't Make Promises
4. The Bottle
5. Black Is The Colour
6. Close To You
7. Early Morning Rain
8. One Way Road
9. Hercules
10. Thinking Of You
11. All Along The Watchtower
12. 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 PromisesAaron 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 CarpentersClose 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.

  

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AS IS NOW (2005)

1. Blink And You'll Miss It
2. Paper Smile
3. Come On Let's Go
4. Here's The Good News
5. The Start Of Forever
6. Pan
7. All On A Misty Morning
8. From The Floorboards Up
9. I Wanna Make It All Right
10. Savages
11. Fly Little Bird
12. Roll Along Summer
13. Bring Back The Funk (Pts. 1 & 2)
14. 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 MorrisonAll 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 FunkThe 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.

 

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