Sunday 18 October 2020

Paul Weller - Solo (Part 1)

 To nick an idea from Mojo - How To Buy Paul Weller Solo

(aka Rigid Digit's indispensable guide to the bloke from Woking)

In late 1982, Paul Weller announced the upcoming Jam shows were to be the last, and at the end of the tour that was the end of the band.  This came as news to Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler, but Weller's mind was made up.  He was moving on with the band at their height.
The recent change of direction to a more Northern Soul, funk-ish sound, may well have exposed the other two (in fairness, more Rick than Bruce) but I don't think either of them were too comfortable with Paul's direction of travel.

Wasting no time, The Style Council was formed (or convened, in keeping with Weller's socialist manifesto) and by early 1983 were back in the Top 10 with "Speak Like A Child".  5 albums and around 20 singles followed in the next 5 years.  Styles may have varied, but popularity was never far from the band.  Until 1989 ...
Trying to push further onwards into new territory, the album 'Modernism: A New Decade' was recorded - an album influenced by the Chicago and New Jersey House Music, the UK variant of, and imbued with deeper Soul music leanings.  A Brave move for a pop band - and something of a Cash Cow for Polydor records.  They'd backed Paul Weller since 1977, and now - when presented with this new vision - unceremoniously dump the band.

After a couple of years wound licking, he finally picks up the guitar again, revisits his well known influences - Steve Marriott, Kinks, John Lennon - and adds some new ones which have not previously been spoken of - Neil Young, Steve Winwood, John Coltrane, Dr John.

These initial return steps on the club circuit was followed by his debut single release "Into Tomorrow" in 1991, followed in 1992 by his debut solo album titled simply 'Paul Weller'.
All the above influences were in there, along with more recognisable echoes of his past, including the single "Uh Huh Oh Yeh" which brought him back to chart and public recognition.

This amalgam of influences continued with the folky, introspective, but equally cutting 60s R&B influence, running through 1993s 'Wild Wood'.  Compare and contrast title track "Wild Wood" with "Sunflower" or "The Weaver" - 2 ends of the same Weller-spectrum.  Closing track "Hung Up" manages to combine both these styles.
Edit: just re-listened to this for the first time in a few years - it's rougher and tougher than I remember.  The noisier moments outweigh the quiet.
'Wild Wood' contains a confidence that was not as apparent on the debut, and elevated Weller to greater recognition.

And just at the right time ... just around the corner (musically) Britpop was coming into view - his solo career and success led to him being seen as a figurehead for the burgeoning movement, later to be dubbed The Modfather.
And how did he re-pay this visibility and influence?  By releasing his most assured set to date 'Stanley Road' which proved he was the equal of many Britpop bands, and also leading the way.
The opening track "The Changingman" was, and remains, a Weller classic, and showed many of the Britpop gang how it should be done.  "You Do Something To Me" and "Broken Stones" are cur from the same cloth, and show a lighter touch.  "Woodcutter's Son" features Steve Winwood and is (for me) the pick of the album.
It is both looking back and pushing forwards, stuffed with groove and funk and soul.  If 'Wild Wood' made him important again, then 'Stanley Road' made him vital again.

Now widely known as The Modfather, and approaching 40 he was now seen as an elder statesman (an elder statesman with energy, ideas, and passion for what he was doing).
1997s 'Heavy Soul' is not without it's moments, it just sounds a little "by numbers" rather than pushing on, or extending the stance of 'Stanley Road'.  A great album, I think it just misses that on killer track ("Friday Street" and "Mermaids" come close, but not quite there).

'Heliocentric' came 3 years later, and initially it felt like treading water mixed with trying to find a new sound, but unfortunately often arriving back at the old one.  The songs on the album aren't bad songs, they just feel like they need a bit more polishing.

'Heliocentric' was an attempt to try new stuff and stop the water treading.  Unfortunately 'Illumination' found itself in the same pool as before, but with a track like "It's Written In The Stars". you can almost forgive the album (almost, but not quite).

On 'Wild Wood', he asked the question "Has My Fire Really Gone Out?" - well, at this point it was dimming a bit.

So where next?
10 years done, will the next 10 years continue trading on reputation and guest appearances?  And are there more patchy albums to come?
Never one to stand still, it must be time for The Changingman to change.

Uh Huh Oh Yeh

Hung Up

Woodcutter's Son


  1. He has written some superb songs; if only he wasn't so fucking miserable.

    Have you seen the footage of him and Noel Gallagher at the Royal Albert Hall playing Butterfly Collector? It's rather special...

    1. Butterfly Collector is one of his best, and if it's the performance I'm thinking of (I've seen a couple) then it is very good.
      There was a point around the turn of the century when he suddenly became comfortable with his past and started performing more Jam and Style Council songs.
      I reckon it was his band and people like Noel badgering him not to leave these songs behind. There's a great 2002 version of Man In The Cornershop out there in Youtube land too.