Friday, 3 July 2020

Paul Weller - Phase Two (2008-2020)



The albums covered here are:-

22 Dreams (2008)
Wake Up The Nation (2010)
Sonik Kicks (2012)
Saturn's Pattern (2015)
A Kind Revolution (2017)
True Meanings (2018)
On Sunset (2020)
and Modern Classics

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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22 DREAMS (2008)

1. Light Nights
2. 22 Dreams
3. All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)
4. Have You Made Up Your Mind
5. Empty Ring
6. Invisible
7. Song For Alice
8. Cold Moments
9. The Dark Pages Of September
10. Black River
11. Why Walk When You Can Run
12. Push It Along
13. A Dream Reprise
14. Echoes Round The Sun
15. One Bright Star
16. Lullaby Für Kinder
17. Where'er Ye Go
18. God
19. 111
20. Sea Spray
21. 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 MomentsBlack 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 GoGod 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 KinderInvisible 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.

 

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WAKE UP THE NATION (2010)

1. Moonshine
2. Wake Up The Nation
3. No Tears To Cry
4. Fast Car/Slow Traffic
5. Andromeda
6. In Amsterdam
7. She Speaks
8. Find the Torch/Burn The Plans
9. Aim High
10. Trees
11. Grasp And Still Connect
12. Whatever Next
13. 7 & 3 Is The Striker's Name
14. Up The Dosage
15. Pieces Of A Dream
16. Two Fat Ladies     

After the diverse, sprawling occasional genius that was 2008's 22 DreamsPaul 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.

 

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SONIK KICKS (2012)

1. Green
2. The Attic
3. Kling I Klang
4. Sleep Of The Serene
5. By The Waters
6. That Dangerous Age
7. Study In Blue
8. Dragonfly
9. When Your Garden's Overgrown
10. Around The Lake
11. Twilight
12. Drifters
13. Paperchase
14. 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

  

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SATURN'S PATTERN (2015)

1. White Sky
2. Saturns Pattern
3. Going My Way
4. Long Time
5. Pick It Up
6. I'm Where I Should Be
7. Phoenix
8. In The Car...
9. 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 KicksPaul 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. 

  

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A KIND REVOLUTION (2017)

1. Woo Se Mama
2. Nova
3. Long Long Road
4. She Moves With The Fayre
5. The Cranes Are Back
6. Hopper
7. New York
8. One Tear
9. Satellite Kid
10. 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’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.

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TRUE MEANINGS (2018)

1. The Soul Searchers
2. Glide
3. Mayfly
4. Gravity
5. Old Castles
6. What Would He Say?
7. Aspects
8. Bowie
9. Wishing Well
10. Come Along
11. Books
12. Movin' On
13. May Love Travel With You
14. 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.

PS - The Soul SearchersAspects, 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.



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ON SUNSET (2020)

1. Mirror Ball
2. Baptiste
3. Old Father Thyme
4. Village
5. More
6. On Sunset
7. Equanimity                                                 8. Walkin'
9. Earth Beat
10. 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.



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MODERN CLASSICS

  

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 TrafficNick DrakeThe Small FacesHumble 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 WoodStanley 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.



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