- by Jeff Penczak Release Date:2017-03-10 Label: Parlophone
We’re at a bit of a disadvantage here, with Parlophone’s marketing machine deciding to drum up support for yet another pugilist film by pre-releasing Weller’s film score a week ahead of the its St. Patrick’s Day release. Of course, they’re counting on fans buying it simply because it’s got Weller’s name attached, leaving it to musicologists and journos like us to peel through the gloss and try and make some sense of it all. We’ve no images to contemplate whilst listening to Weller’s sound cues, and the score is mostly instrumental, so already it’s got several strikes against it. Weller has admittedly created some of our most “cinematic” songs throughout his lengthy 4-decade career, but that’s due to his brilliant lyrics that often create mini-movies inside a 3-minute pop song. But stripped of their “visual” aspects (i.e., lyrics), we can’t see many of Weller’s faithful plopping down 30 (CD) or 40 (LP) quid to hear The Paul Weller Orchestra.
More than half the score is (literally) comprised of the 21½-minute, sidelong opening suite, ‘Jimmy / Blackout’, an atmospheric mood piece that finds Weller building on Eno’s ambient oeuvre, with synthy swooshes and dissonant piano crashes taking centre stage in this mostly avant garde sound collage. Bereft of visual signposts, we’ve no idea what Weller is “seeing” (or “scoring”), so we’re left with nothing but intriguing sounds adding up to little more than occasionally pretty aural wallpaper. At the midpoint (presumably the ‘Blackout’ segment), we get a flash of electric guitar to disturb the monotony, but soon float away on dreamy synth passages more suited to navelgazing introspection that recovering from a TKO. A brief vocal passage finds Weller trying on his Tony Bennett-meets-Scott Walker persona. It’s rather lovely, albeit depressing, but it’s too little, too late.
‘The Ballad of Jimmy McCade’ is sure to be the album’s selling point, a tender acoustic folk ballad somewhat reminiscent of Weller’s cover of Tim Hardin’s ‘Black Sheep Boy’, and quite possibly the best thing he’s cut in years. I can practically see the video filming itself, so this may be even more poignant after one sees the film.
Weller is in full-on, balls-to-the-wall mode for the title track, a loud, aggressive, electric bull’s rush of adrenaline (again, images may help, although the brief snippets of dialogue give the gist). The film is supposedly semi-autobiographical, although the lines between the story’s hero and Weller himself fade into a blurry haze in ‘Bottle’, whose opening lyric hits a little close to home: “Where has the bottle gone/Where is the man I was?” The soft, acoustic tune is contraindicative of its film’s subject matter, but Weller has never been in better voice and one almost feels sorry for the lug (McCade, not Weller!)
The remainder are more akin to ideas or song blueprints than actual “songs” (‘Jawbone-Training’ is little more than electric guitar riffing akin to Neil Young “weld”ing his six string to his Marshall stack, and ‘Man on Fire’ and ‘End Fight Sequence’ are more electronic sound collages), so you’re really just getting a single’s worth of repeat-listen-worthy material – ‘The Ballad of Jimmy McCade’ c/w ‘Bottle’ overloaded with a half hour of noise and Weller wanking off in his basement.