First Impressions: that is not how you spell "Sonic" - never mind, spell checking aside Paul Weller's new album is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend 43.5 minutes* of your life.
It has been two years since 'Wake Up The Nation', the album that re-united Paul Weller and Bruce Foxton in the studio, and according to some critics was "a return to form". After the slightly disappointing '22 Dreams', it was a better album but still not as good as I hoped it would be. 'Stanley Road' is often cited as Paul Weller's best album/career high - to that I say: "pish - go away and listen to 'As Is Now'", but this new album ranks above 'Stanley Road' and 'Wake Up The Nation'.
For Trivia Lovers: 'Sonik Kicks' was released nearly 30 years to the day (give or take a week) since 'The Gift'
The album starts with a Neu!-ish/Krautrock-ish/Chemical Brothers-ish (lots of -ish there!) introduction (sadly, the first couple of seconds immediately reminded me of Paul McCartney's 'Wonderful Christmastime') , followed by half-spoken/half-sung Pop Art poetry/lyrics. A wave of psychedelia remains in this track - a fine start to the album.
'The Attic' is more familiar ground, and after 'Green' it is a welcome distraction. Whilst 'Green' is fine, I don't think I could manage two of them on the trot
'Kling I Klang' / 'Sleep Of The Serene' / 'By The Waters' - its difficult to know where one stops and the next starts, a sort of 3 tune song cycle without ever losing your attention.
'That Dangerous Age' - destined to be a proper Weller classic. Remember The Jam tracks 'Mr Clean' and 'Smithers-Jones' (OK, that was a Bruce Foxton song) - songs about not wanting to get caught in the Rat Race? 'The Dangerous Age' covers similar ground, but from the perspective of now "just getting on with it", and possibly the impending "mid life crisis"
'Study In Blue' - Starting as what can only be decided as a tender(ish) duet with wife Hannah, it rolls into a drawn out meditatory instrumental passage. Memories of The Style Council pervade this track. I never really liked The Style Council much, but I do like this track (note to self: go and listen to 'Cafe Bleu' again)
'Dragonfly' / 'Around The Lake' - both these songs are cut from similar cloth. A driving bass and drumbeat. To offer another comparison to the past, would sit nicely with Gift-era Jam, or the first knockings of The Style Council
When Your Gardens Overgrown - The most immediate track on the album. One that would not sound out of place tacked onto the end of "Heavy Soul"
You get 16 seconds of electronic noodling ('Twilight'), and then its straight into 'Drifters'. First impressions are a messy cacophony of bass, guitars & lyrics. Stick with it - it's a fine track, despite it not really having a discernible tune and the one that seems to have worked its way into my brain the quickest
'Paperchase' - It starts with that Gift-type driving bass, with electronic flourishes throughout. A great little song with nice understated guitars, and a Beatle-y/George Martin-ish string arrangement. The track finishes as another instrumental drone/meditation piece. And then just stops.
'Be Happy Children' - Again, memories of The Style Council are rife within this track. A strong track to finish. In anyone elses hand, this track would probably be seen as a wishy-washy over sentimental barrage. But it works snuck on the end of this album, and it works as a stand alone listen. A paean to fathers and fatherhood, and on suspects a tribute to his own father. The sentiment of the lyric cannot be argued with. After all, the title of the track only states what every dad wants for theit kids.
The Horrible Comparative Part of The Review: How many different influences exist on this album?
- Style Council - particularly the expirimental jazzy/funky bits
- Gift-era Jam
- David Bowie
- a touch of Talk Talk piano ('Dragonfly')
- theres even a Fratellis-sounding riff in there somewhere ('Kling I Klang')
On the whole, despite Paul Weller being 53, you wouldn't believe it. This album sounds as fresh, vital and inventive as anything else I've recently purchased.
Avoiding the cliche of star ratings, or marks out of 10, I will offer that this album is ranked very near the top of any selected scale.
Is it as good as 'As Is Now' (my personal favouritte)? Not yet, but I'm sure I'll still being regularly listening to it in the future (by way of comparison, I haven't listened to '22 Dreams' for a good couple of years now)
* The album is 43mins 30seconds. This is the correct length to fit on one side of a C90 Cassette, and therefore the correct length for any album to be - well done Mr Weller