Sunday, 3 January 2021

Give Em Enough Rope

Which is the best Clash album?

Most will cite the debut or 'London Calling'.  And rightly so, they are both great albums.  There may even be some who vote for 'Sandinista' (in a sort of perverse "Look at me.  I'm a big fan, and I'll do the unexpected thing to prove it" type way).
My choice?  'Give Em Enough Rope', the supposedly disappointing second album.

Since the impact of the debut, there had been 3 further singles - "Complete Control", "Clash City Rockers" and the peerless "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais".  Those 3 singles rank amongst the best tracks The Clash ever did, and each one moving further from the Punk template (which they'd already tried to break down with Reggae stabs on the debut).
And they're also now at full strength with Topper Headon installed on the drum stool and Paul Simonon now able to play bass without relying on tippex marks on the neck.
CBS were obviously looking for a big rerun on their investment, and selling albums in America would be a useful source of this return.  They weren't convinced that the debut would shift units and most likely suggested (imposed?) Blue Oyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman to twiddle the knobs for the next album, and also to give the whole package a buffing-up to ready it for the US market.
The final mix had Joe Strummer's vocals lower in the mix than Topper's drums for no other reason than Sandy Pearlman disliked the vocals.  And that may actually be a masterstroke in disguise as the sheer attack of the opening 3 songs - "Safe European Home", "English Civil War" and "Tommy Gun" - is very probably the greatest first 10 minutes of any album.
After that, it would take something special to keep the pace up.  It keeps bowling along, although in fairness, it does fall just short (no less valid, certainly not filler or padding, just not quite firing as high).  Until ... nestled in the middle of Side 2 is very possibly the best song Mick Jones ever wrote - "Stay Free".

The album shows a movement from the confines of Punk. A wider soundscape - Topper's versatile drumming and Mick's New York Dolls and Mott The Hoople influences can be heard in the arrangements that would ultimately return CBS's investment and (if only for a brief moment) be one of the biggest bands in the world.
"The only band that matters"?  Perhaps not, but between 1978 and 1982 they were certainly one of five or six bands that lay claim to that title.
And here's an interesting aside/thought: those 3 preceding singles, this album, and 'London Calling' were produced in a Bernie Rhodes-less environment.  Make of that what you will, but their best work was produced without their supposedly indispensable manager.

Maybe CBS and Sandy Pearlman got it right - The Clash don't sound out of place here, if anything it probably gave them the confidence to further explore their influences and sounds on the double 'London Calling' and triple 'Sandinista'.

Disappointing?  Not a bit of it.

Safe European Home

Stay Free

Monday, 28 December 2020

2020 Late Comers - Macca and Accadacca

Two albums that might've made the Rigidly Digital 2020 Selection, but didn't arrive in time, were:

  • Paul McCartney 'III' - Release delayed to 18th December
  • AC/DC 'Power Up' - The gentle advice I was given was "DO NOT BUY IT!"
    (and yes, there it was wrapped in shiny paper)

And now I can reveal that, I will place them at Numbers 16 and 17.  Of the two, I'm preferring AC/DC to Paul McCartney's Lockdown recordings.

'Power Up':
AC/DC always deliver what you expect of AC/DC, and this album is no different, although it does fell more committed than the last two outing ('Black Ice' and 'Rock Or Bust') which felt more like an exercise in keeping the name out there than creating new music.
This one has echoes of early 80s efforts 'For Those About To Rock' and 'Flick Of The Switch'.  Solid drums, root bass notes, pounding relentless rhythm guitar, Brain's wailing vocals. and Angus's fills and solos.  Nothing new really (except a slight Led Zep-ism on "Demon Fire"), but you don't want it or expect it.  No they won't ever top 'Back In Black' and long ago gave up trying to.  What you do get is everything you want of an AC/DC album, and it's always good to press play and just know what is going to happen.

Like McCartneys I & II, all here is preformed by Paul - although it sounds like he has a full band in tow at times - all hail to recording technology.
There can be little doubt that Paul McCartney knows how to write a tune, and this album proves he hasn't lost the knack.  OK, some of the songs sound a little sketchy and brittle, but he sounds in good voice and playability.  This album may not rank amongst his best work, but is not a true duffer.
What I find most pleasing about it is that it is an album of songs, and not a collection of outlines, musings, and experiments, and has been polished up and not just thrown out as an exercise in "look what I've been doing during lockdown".  Perfectly listenable (as Macca's work always is) but one does wonder how much these songs would've grown in a bigger studio with other players to bounce off.

AC/DC - Realize

Paul McCartney - Find My Way

Thursday, 10 December 2020

2020 Vision

2020 will be both long remembered, and hopefully quickly forgotten about.  Who knew what was coming as we all made brave resolutions for the coming 12 months, and (me personally) filled some holes in my 2019 purchases, and started building the 2020 entries.  And by the second week, the first new purchase of the year - The Professionals "Kingdom Come"(number 1 of 3 EPs over the next 3 months - was blowing holes in my speakers.
A few more shiny silver discs were added, but the rumblings of this "thing" from China were getting, louder - Italy succumbed, Spain got hit, and then everywhere (including the UK) shut down.
"You must stay at home" was the message, and I did. My dining table was converted to a temporary office and I discovered the "joys" of Microsoft Teams, failed VPN connections, unstable internet, and conversations with 2D images of people I used to spend 8 hours a day with generally nattering tosh and taking the p*ss out of people.
But - I count my blessings.  The lockdown emptied Pubs, Restaurants and Live Music Venues.  Bands had to stop touring (for many their main source of income), theatres closed, and a whole host of backroom supply chains (sound, lighting, catering, roadies, merchandise sellers etc) found themselves out of work with no visible means of support or recognition.

Yet through all this, there has been some very fine musical product thrown to the world.  As "classic" as previous years?  Destined to trouble the All Time Lists in future years?  Their best work to date?
Who knows - but one cannot deny there have been some very special albums this year, and my carefully curated Top 15 will (I'm sure) confirm this for anyone who can get past the meandering introduction ...

1. Sparks - A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
After nigh on 50 years releasing albums, Sparks have perfected the formula (in truth they long ago perfected it, and each release has just been a new addition).
This ranks alongside their very best from the opening acoustic guitar strum of "All That" to the choral closing of "Please Don't Fuck Up My World" there is not a duff moment.    50 minutes of pure entertainment, enjoyment, baroque surrealism and madness (with a few rude words and exasperations thrown in).

All That

2. Duncan Reid & The Big Heads - Don't Blame Yourself
He's been a member of the London SS, been on tour with The Ramones, and written one of the finest Punkpop tunes (The Boys "The First Time").  Now on his fourth album with his own band, Duncan continues to fly under the radar and (when allowed) never delivering less than 100% commitment in his live shows.  Unfortunately, not all the songs here have had their on-stage baptism and without that comparison this album is a true triumph in his back catalogue

To Live Or Live Not

3. Block 33 - 6:36 To Liverpool Street
2020 probably wasn't the best year to release your debut album and hope to recoup costs by performing a keynote show at the 100 Club.  But how would they know that it was all going to turn to rats when  they planned it.  Block 33 are rooted in their own mini Mod Revival and drawing on not just original (1960s) and revival (1980s) Mod, they also pull in Britpop Mod to the mix.  Amos turned up, singing in their own accent, and making a glorious noise to boot.  Deserves attention, and did not deserve their plans to be put on hold for a year or more. 

Eye Of The Hurricane

4.  Bob Mould - Blue Hearts
After slightly wrong footing his listeners with the often positive and relatively bright 'Sunshine Rock', Bob returns as angry as ever with plenty to get of his chest.  From a generally restrained opening trck, the whole thing just flies out of the speakers with the tracks colliding with each other.  And if you can't be passionately aggressive and angry in this of all years, then when can you be.

Siberian Butterfly

5. Sensible Gray Cells - Get Back Into The World
Captain Sensible and Paul Gray reconvene their side Project to duties in The Damned for the second SGC outing.  This album is stuff full of tunes, garage rock, hammond organs, melodies, and tracks that wouldn’t go amiss at a Damned show.  You do wonder if Captain Sensible filters his songs and keeps all the “grumpy old man with a point” songs and the most melodic-garage stuff for his own albums.

Sell Her Spark

6. Paul Weller - On Sunset
Here's Paul Weller, and as ever he's doing exactly what he bleedin well wants to,  A bit of soul here, a dance beat there, an ambient-esque bit tacked on for good measure.  Yup he's still exploring and still producing the goods.  An object lesson in "why rest on your laurels" when you can achieve results like this


7. Humdrum Express - Ultrcrepidarian Soup
Ahh .. blessed light relief set to a ska-esque backbeat with stabs of John Cooper-Clarke, Half Man Half Biscuit (and possibly Mike Harding - that's probably the first time that comparator has been used in a contemporary review).
If you want comment on modern life with a winsome chuckle and some belly laughs, the Humdrum Express will fit the bill.

Online Beer Club

8. Massive Wagons - House Of Noise
They say it themselves in the chorus of track 1 - We'll give em some big time rock and roll, big riffs big licks big moves - and yup, that is what you got.  Big dumb riffs from the AC/DC, Van Halen songbook mixed with The Darkness and even a a touch of The Cult.  And complete with the obligatory shrill guitar solo on each song.  Under the big riffs is an honesty, commitment and sheer belief in what they do.  And not without humour - The Curry Song veers almost in Macc Lads territory.

In It Together

9. Sports Team - Deep Down Happy
As I've said about 874 times before, this year wasn't perhaps the best to release your debut album.  But fear not, this debut would grace any year.  The latest in the line of great hopes for Indie - and they deserve the plaudits.  The sound is a hybrid of Post-Punk, joyous Britpop, a smattering of Home Counties Sultans Of Ping FC, and a dose of early Franz Ferdinand (or that's how it is to these daft ears).  Swaggering and sure, they get in, deliver, and get out in around 35 minutes.  And no filler in between.

Here's The Thing

10. Fontaines DC - A Heroes Death
Taking it's lead from last years debut, the atmospheric Joy Division-isms remain as does the big Irish heart.  Not maybe as immediate as the first, but just as worthy after a few listens (patience is the key).  What I originally though of as 50% filler reduced to less than 25% - it's not perfect, but it's better than some others I've heard this year.

I Don't Belong

11. Green Day - Father of All Motherfuckers
Following up a multi-million selling album is not an easy task.. Green Day have tried, it it has taken 16 years to come somewhere close.  But they did it and this album is filled with the kind of joyous snarly punk that get them noticed in the first place.  Maybe the songs aren't destined for the inevitable 'The Very Best Of Green Day', but they certainly make a compelling case for consideration.


12. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - Manchester Calling
My first impression here was "this goes on a bit" and "has Paul Heaton lost his knack?", but like Fontaines DC above it just needs a bit of patience.  Yes it goes on a bit (it is a double) but is every bit as key as their previous outings.  My only criticism is does it need t obe a double, I think there is a seriously strong single album crying to get out.
And to answer the last question - no, he hasn't lost the knack, Paul and Jacqui Abbot continue they're singing-sparring as strong as they always have done.

The Only Exercise I Get Is You

13. Kate Rusby - Hand Me Down
Recorded during lockdown at her home studio, Kate Rusby provides a relaxing backdrop with a set of covers delivered in a broad Yorkshire twang.  One cannot help but enjoy the songs - I think the choice of The Littlest Hobo theme is inspired.  OK, Manic Monday veers on the side of Radio 2-twee, but hey no-one wants to try too hard after months of staring at the same wall.. We all need some comfort, and this one delivered it.

Maybe Tomorrow

14. The Damned - The Rockfield Files
There are many who say that The Damned's best album is 'The Black Album', and I wholheartedly concur. During the middle months of this year, the band returned to the scene of the crime (Rockfield Studios) and wrote and recorded this 4 Track EP.
The sound is as you'd expect from The Damned, slightly schlock-y, a dash of Scott Walker, and underpinned by plenty of garage-psych.  Tony Visconti's production on the otherewise great album from last year - 'Evil Spirits' - this EP restores The Damned to their finest sound. 

Black Is The Night

15. The Professionals - 123 EPs
The Professional's were hoping for a big year - they'd reconvened and re-established themselves with 'What In The World' a couple of years ago, the line-up had settled, and they would be touring with Stiff Little Fingers at the start of the year before getting on with writing and recording.  These 3 EPs were a taster of what was to come, and it tasted fine.
There is a certain irony that the third EP was titled "2020 Vision"

2020 Vision

(OK, I admit it – I padded this out to 15 using a couple of EPs, although The Professionals 3 EPs have 12 tracks, which is tantamount to an album innit)

But it's not over yet - I'm still waiting on 'McCartney III' (delayed to 18th December) and AC/DC - 'Power Up' (which I've been told not to buy, so expect to see it in wrapping paper in about 3 weeks time).
I haven't bought Bruce Springsteen's 'Letter To You' either (which I should really be rectifying soon)

2020 - a sh*t year for live music, sport, mobility, and damn near anything else.  But a rare old year for recorded music.
I've already started scanning the lists of pre-orders for 2021 (Alice Cooper and Bruce Foxton & Russel Hastings in the bag so far) so will doubtless return with more meandering balderdash - both old and new, borrowed and blue - very soon.

One of the good things of this lockdown state is that for the last month my ears have not been battered by the same 12 songs from every shop doorway.
But if you are missing them, here is a slight revision to the Sladest of all Chrimbo songs.  One where every line is changed to "Are you hanging up your stocking on your wall"

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Anyone Fancy A Pint?

 There are a number of bands who are superb live, but never seem to be able to capture the power on record.
One disappointment for me was The Quireboys - I'd seen them a few times live and it was always a full on powerful show, but one the album arrived it was somewhat sanitised, over-produced, and all tghe edges cleaned up.
Old stagers The Who and The Stones fall firmly into that category now where their live shows exceed the impact of studio performances.
Thin Lizzy's best album is 'Live And Dangerous', The Foo Fighters live act trumps their records (they're very good records, but they are a prime live act), and Bruce Springsteen live is the consumate performer putting in shows of up to 4 hours (is he the Ken Dodd of Rock?).  Prince too - I've never loved his records, but watching and hearing him live is a pure spectacle (especially when he goes just a little bit wild on the guitar).
So why does this happen?  Surely all you have to do is rock up to the studio, plug in, and place your live set on tape.
But what's missing when you do this is the response from the audience, the chance to do something spontaneous, the missed beats, duff notes or wrong words are addressed and banished, recording is a "job" not a fly by the seat of your pants adrenalin rush.

Pub Rock started in North London in the early 70s when American Band Eggs Over Easy convinced the landlord of The Tally Ho in Kenitish Town to let them play in the back-room.
Word got out and audiences increased adn soon a circuit of pubs opened up their doors selling beer, pickled eggs and sweaty rock n roll and r&b.
On of the finest purveyours was Duck's Deluxe, who along with Brinsley Schwarz, the aforementioned Eggs Over Easy, and Bees Make Honey, were there right from the start.

Such was their reputation on the circuit, they landed a deal with RCA and went into the studio to transfer their live shows onto record.
Little footage exists of the band playing live, but the small amount that does shows a working band high on commitment, playing ability and presence.
But their debut for RCA sounded a bit flat by comparison - it's not a bad record at all, it just feels too clean and a bit lacking of drive.  Songs like "Coast To Coast", "Nervous Breakdown" and "Fireball" have all the potential just something is missing between leaving the players and transferring to tape.
Undeterred, the band and record company tried again with follow-up album 'Taxi To The Terminal Zone', but still no dice.  Again, it's a fine album but is sounding flat again.
One last single was released - a great version of "I Fought The Law" - before the Ducks called it a day in 1975.

They rounded of things with a live performance at the 100 Club which was recorded and bootlegs appeared a couple of years later under the title 'The Last Night Of A Pub Rock Band'.  This was the Ducks at full chat and a better representation of the band on record, as is reformation album 'Rockin At The Moon' (widely available on Spotify unlike 'Last Night ...' which can only be found with a bit of searching (and then not necessarily "freely" available).

Which begs the question: why didn't they put out their live set as an official album?  Dr Feelgood did (granted it was their third album) and secured a Number 1 seller.
Ducks Deluxe, along with many other Pub Rockers, will be filed in the "oh so nearly" file.

But they weren't completely defeated:  Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont joined Graham Parker's backing band The Rumour, while Nick Garvey and Andy McMaster formed The Motors and managed a couple of Top Of The Pops appearances.
Sean Tyla though - the guitarist, singer, songwriter, and general driving force of the band stayed on the club circuit - achieving acclaim in Scandinavia and Germany, until health induced retirement in the early 80s.

They had the songs, they had the chops, they had the following, all that was missing was a decent bit of studio engineering to get the crackling sound they made onto a slab of vinyl.

Minor quibble though - the 2 albums are worthy of anyone's time and hint at just what could've been


Cost To Coast

Friday, 20 November 2020

Ullo John Gotta New Motor

 Alexei Sayle was the first compere at The Comedy Store in 1979 showcasing his own brand of politically aware, surreal flights, and often highly controversial and audience baiting Comedy.
Looking at early footage, it is a surprise that he was never physically attacked (only heckled, which he could bat away without a moments thought).
One of his early political jokes is proof that political comedy doesn't always age, bring as relevant now as it was 40 years ago:

"If you travel to the States ... they have a lot of different words than like what we use. For instance: they say 'elevator', we say 'lift'; they say 'drapes', we say 'curtains'; they say 'President', we say 'seriously deranged git!'"

The other big Alternative Comedy venue in London was The Comic Strip, and Alexei switched sides becoming a core member fot 2 distinct TV outings - Channel 4s The Comic Strip Presents ... and BBC2s The Young Ones.
In The Young Ones, he was ostensibly the landlord Jerzei Balowski but also many members of the Balowski family, a deranged criminal madman called Brian Damage, Benito Mussolini, a Vampire, and the lead singer of a band whose only song is about the joys of Doctor Martens Boots.
He may have only had 5 minutes solo per show, but he made it count by breaking character, breaking the fourth wall, and generally coming up with some particularly daft monologues.

Alongside the Scouse Communist shtick (where he stated his full name was: Alexei Yuri Gagarin Siege of Stalingrad Glorious Five Year Plan Sputnik Tractor Moscow Dynamo Back Four Sayle) he also wrote and performed a Detective Mystery Radio Play (set in Milton Springsteen Newtown) called The Fish People.

And it was from The Fish People (although largely unrelated) that came his Pop Star moment.
He took his base stage character - short fat bloke, tonic suit, and pork pie hat - gave the character a South London accent, and after fronting a BBC documentary about the Ford Cortina, he wrote, recorded and unleashed "Ullo John Gotta New Motor" - part funk, part rap, part surreal nonsense.  The base track was extended over 4 parts, each the same but different enough, and culminating in Part 4 which is basically a revisit of an earlier character - Mr Sweary.  The final part doesn't really have lyrics, just a litany of profanity.  It's not big, it's not clever, but it is strangely funny (think Derek and Clive set to a dinstinctly 80s Studio beat).

And that was it - he'd had his moment on Top Of  The Pops, and "Ullo John" will remain a mainstay on cheap Novelty music compilations, he chose to return to Comedy and made his first appearance with The Comic Strip Presents ... in the film film Supergrass (playing a rather deranged ballet dancing motorcycle cop).
But it was not all comedy as he also landed some small parts in straight films (he's even in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (briefly)).

But he returned to stand-up comedy - although in a slightly lighter vain - with three series of Alexei Sayle's Stuff and The All New Alexei Sayle Show on BBC2.  The series mixed character comedy (Bobby Chariot - "Ow ya diddling? Bloody sod ya then!", the Feminists who own a bike shop called Menstrual Cycles) with Alexei's exasperation and rumination on life as he sees it all delivered in a high-brow yet anarchically subversive tone - he steered clear of "deep" politics, but couldn't resist chucking the odd jibe in.

And then came another career change - now he's a novelist, a newspaper columnist, and a general know it all who might get the call for a Talking Heads TV slot if Stephen Fry is unavailable.

But as the theme song to Stuff asked: "Who is that fat bastard?"
He's the bloke who's on the lookout for a new set of wheels whilst wondering is there is life in Peckham?

Friday, 13 November 2020

Deep Purple - Made In Japan

 Dateline: 1972

The world is just about at peak-Led Zeppelin, peak-Black Sabbath, Marc Bolan has invented and personified Glam Rock, David Bowie becomes the first of his many characters, The Who and The Stones continue to it out for the title of The Worlds Greatest Rock and Roll Band, and Deep Purple release a live album that they felt wasn't necessary, and only did so to keep their record company off their backs.

That live album was 'Made In Japan', and as the name suggests was recorded (apocryphally using sub-standard equipment) in Osaka and Tokyo on their August 1972 tour of Japan.

A double album containing just 7 tracks - the shortest here is opener "Highway Star" which falls just short of the 7 minute mark.
At the other end of the scale, closing track "Space Truckin" is nigh on 20 minutes long and occupies it's own side of the original vinyl release.

If the story of not wanting to do alive album is to be believed, then it is somewhat let down by the sheer energy of the songs on show here.
Every track is a showcase for the bands prowess, musicality and proficiency - each getting their own little show-off moment.  These versions have enough to differentiate them from the studio versions (ie they're not just played straight) and the whole band sounds like one solid unit relying on each others feed lines, second guessing where the song goes, and then adding their own touches.

The Drum Solo?  That's normally a cue to sprint to the bar or toilets and leave the tub thumper showing off a bit by bashing things.  "The Mule" though is a key part of this set.  Helped in part by the fact it starts out like a Greek Folk Song.  The vocal track is done and dusted in under 2 minutes, and then Ian Paice takes over for another 7 and a half minutes.  As drum solos go, this is one I actually enjoy listening to.  He is a darn fine drummer (and often absent from the "Greatest Drummers Of All Time" lists that seem to fill up Mojo, Uncut, and many corners of the interweb.

Spare a thought though - he's up there sweating cobs under stage lights, the band wander back on stage to provide a slight coda towards the end, the final cymbal crashes, the bass drum thuds, and the moment the cheering dies down they fly into the next song.without pause.  No rest for the tubthumpers. 

The 25th Anniversary edition included the Encores on a second disc.  Not sure I need 3 versions of "Black Night" and 2 of "Speed King", but the Purple-ised wig-out 9 minute version of "Lucille" is a welcome addition to proceedings.

Mark II Purple is my patch of choice - and this one for me really is peak-Purple (1972 was a pretty good year for peaking).  There was only to be one further album in that configuration though before Ian Gillan and Roger Glover departed (replaced by David Coverdale and Glen  Hughes).  The opening track of 'Who Do We Think We Are' was "My Woman From Tokyo" a nice back link to where this album was recorded.

Later albums were good (if a bit stodgy in places) and even the reformation of the "classic" line-up for 1984s 'Perfect Strangers' does not come close to the power evident on 'Made In Japan'

Highway Star

Smoke On The Water

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Paul Weller - Solo (Part 2)

The'Illumination' album of 2002 was not as illuminating as the title suggests.  Paul Weller was stuck in Dad Rock territory, seemingly with no way out.
A year before he had embraced his past and gone out with just an acoustic guitar playing quieter more contemplative versions of Jam, Style Council and early solo songs. This was released under the title 'Days Of Speed' and outsold his previous release, and his next release.
There appeared to be some revitalisation in the air, but 'Illumination' did not provide this.

But give it a couple of years, and those first steps were happening again - this time with the release of (seemingly obligatory once artists reach a certain point in their career) Covers album.

"Studio 150" is something of a curio - the choice of songs is interesting, if somewhat unexpected.  The man who wrote "In The City" covering a Sister Sledge track, The Modfather sings Bob Dylan.  The biggest surprise (for me) was the choice of "Close To You" - a track forever linked with The Carpenters (or maybe Alan Partridge?).  In fairness though it is one of Bacharach and David's finest.
It may not be an essential purchase, but it does mark the start of a decade or so of confounding critics and the public expectation with little (or big) twists and turns of each album.

Not that you'd believe it upon the release of 'As Is Now' - He's back, and back in that 'Wild Wood'/'Stanley Road' groove, with added Funk and a little anger thrown into the mix.
He's embraced his past, and is no longer embarrassed by the adulation.  And now delivers a set of songs that are effortless.   "Come On / Let's Go" may not be the most original tile, but it is a superb track, as is "From The Floorboards Up".  And "Bring Back The Funk" does just that, whilst echoing late period Jam and Style Council moments.
This album (although poor commercially) is one of his very best.

If 'As Is Now' was a "this is me, and I can still do it" statement, then what followed was a "this is me, and now I'm doing what I want" statement.

The next album came some 18 months later after another live album and a 4CD retrospective of his career ('Hit Parade') - proof that he was finally comfortable with all of his past.

'22 Dreams' was released to lauded critical appreciation - still recognisably PW but just different enough to set him apart from accusations of stagnation and trading on past glories.
The album is also something of a departure as 50% of the tracks were co-writes.  It may be the presence of another pen that pushes the songs on this album into unexpected areas - one minute folk, the next soul, add a bit of funk, there's even a bit of Led Zeppelin III and Fairport Convention chucked into the mix.  Eclectic?  Yes, that about covers it.

'Wake Up The Nation' pretty much does what it says on the tin.  The album is more direct, not as eclectic as the last outing, but is not without moments of experimentation.  And listen carefully - there are a couple of tracks when you can hear the Bass Guitar of Bruce Foxton.  Yes, the same Bruce Foxton that went to court with Paul Weller for a fairer share of Jam royalties, lost, and then declared he would never stand on stage with Paul Weller again.  Well, as they both said "Life's too short" and their appearance together proved Paul Weller is not quire as grumpy as his public persona suggests.

Edit: Like 'Wild Wood' before, I've re-listened to this one - it is better/stronger than I remember.

Another album, another soundscape - 2012s 'Sonik Kicks' added Krautrock drumming, a bit of Hawkwind, and moments which sound like the bastard son of David Bowie performing Blur performing Gift-era Jam/early Style Council.  It also contains some exceedingly strong songs and one sure-fire PW Classic in the shape of "That Dangerous Age".  If pushed, I will defend this album to the hilt, and rank it alongside 'Stanley Road' and 'As Is Now' as his best work.

John Peel once said about The Fall: "Always different, always the same - and always interesting".
And this quote fits for Weller's next 4 albums - a little left turn here, a little bit of electronic insertion there, a discovery (or re-discovery) of an unexplored genre.  And always sounding like Paul Weller, and never really losing the interest of the listener.

'Saturns Pattern' was the first of those "different but the same".  There's still an urgency about the album, but also heavy studio production techniques - almost using the studio as a new musical tool.   If I was being unfair, I'd suggest a kinship with Blur's 1994 eponymous album.  But this is no copy,and 100% where Paul Weller's head is at at that time - including the almost prophetic "I'm Where I Should Be".  Maybe not the most immediate listening success, but give it time and it worms it's way in.

'A Kind Revolution' was another slight shift - the soul quotient is jacked up on this one.  And it also features further unlikely collaborators in the shape of Robert Wyatt on “She Moves with the Fayre" and Boy George on "One Tear".  This was another slow burn where on first listening the album doesn't seem to hang together, but repeated listening bares fruit.

'True Meanings' is an acoustic outing, and contains some very good songs - "Mayfly", "Glide", "Bowie" being the pick for me.  It sounds like he's taking it easy here, and he deserves to - this one ranks alongside his very best work, if yet another departure from expected template.

And here we are 43 years since his first recorded outing, and rather than taking it easy resting on past glories, and knocking off another batch of songs, he's still pushing into new territory with 'On Sunset'.
It's almost like he's taken his last 5 years work, mixed it all up, adding some extra seasoning and flavours, and said "I'm still trying to please myself (and hopefully you)".
And with the opening 3 tracks here - "More", "Village" and "Earth Beat" - you still pleasing at least one listener.

from 'As Is Now' - Come On Let's Go

from 'Sonik Kicks' - When Your Garden's Overgrown

from 'Saturns Pattern' - Long Time