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


  1. Is it really 43 years since In the City? Crikey.

  2. Great to read your blog...did you read the story about how Noel Gallagher sent PW a photo of himself with Bono and Elton John,who he hates,just to wind him up...classic!