Paul Weller - A Kind Revolution

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7 Release Date:2017-05-12

Quickly erasing the sour taste of his experimental film music for Jawbone, (a great single buried inside a half hour of aural wallpaper), the modfather returns with a not one, not two, but three-disc set. (Vinyl junkies can queue up for the limited edition 5x10” 45rpm box, and the 3-CD edition is also available as a standard, 10-track album on 180gm vinyl with a free download card for digital fanatics). If you go all in, the extra material consists of alternate versions and remixes and an entire disc of “instrumental versions”, so you can karaoke the night away in your best Welleresque growl.

We’re sticking with the standard edition, which is all you really need unless you’re a completist…or masochist. Weller first came to prominence 40 years ago as a member of the angry young men Brit brat pack (cf., Elvis Costello, Graham Parker) via The Jam, whose debut album was actually released 40 years ago today (20 May, 1977). His angular, aggressive, yet catchy tunes resonated with teenagers, who identified with the wayward angst and ennui of his songs' heroes (Weller, himself, was still a week shy of his 19th birthday), engendering Weller and his cohorts’ (bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler) with showers of praise from fans and critics alike. Five years later, Weller, eager to see what else he could do, instigated an acrimonious split while the band were at the peak of their popularity (their final single and studio album both peaked at Number One in 1982), and Foxton and Buckler have barely spoken with Weller since (although Foxton did appear on a few of Weller’s solo efforts). The jury returned a split verdict on Weller’s follow-up project, the tepid soul-jazz duo, The Style Council, and Weller’s been releasing a steady stream of extremely popular solo albums ever since (this is his thirteenth, not counting several live albums and numerous EPs, and most have peaked at Number One or Two).

Surrounded by the steady rhythm section from his last few albums (bassist Andy Crofts and drummer Ben Gordelier), Weller has invited a few friends to drop by the studio and contribute vocals (Madeline Bell, PP Arnold, Robert Wyatt, Boy George, even his wife, Hannah joins the fun), and even cribbed a title from one of Noel Gallagher’s poems in his The Weight Of Genius poetry anthology! For starters, Weller’s soulful tendencies jump out from behind some ferocious fuzzy guitars on ‘Woo Sé Mama’, a high-struttin’ funkfest featuring Bell and Arnold’s hot (perhaps that should be “woo sé”) mama vocals. Weller has usually included emotionally stirring, heartwrenching ballads on his albums, and ‘Long Long Road’ fits the bill here, and while his vocals have acquired a raspier tone over the years, they are better suited to the stylistic direction he has taken his music – let’s just say that fans of Prince, Dr. John, and Stevies Wonder and Winwood will enjoy this more than his original Jam base, although the intervening 35 years seem like a lifetime ago, and in Mr. Weller’s musical terms, they are.

The Mrs. (Hannah) contributes backing vocals to the dreamy ‘The Cranes Are Back”, and the snazzy, jazzy ‘Hopper’ (the painter, not the actor) effectively incorporates that artist’s images into the lyrics (cf., “Nighthawks” and “Automat”), as Weller loses himself in the late night bars and diners in the rain that offer an opportunity to escape the hectic world “outside” to ponder the world “inside” his head:

“I’m sat in a corner/I’ve merged with the wall/
Become part of the painting/No point in fighting it all/
I’m quite relaxed/It’s fine with me….”

Like Wyatt (‘She Moves With The Fayre’), Boy George is not exactly prominent in his spotlight track, ‘One Tear’, although the tune may have absorbed some of Mr. O’Dowd’s grooves and dance vibes and imbued it with its distinctive Culture Club air. Elsewhere, ‘Satellite Kid’ finds Weller strutting a bluesy swagger, and the eclectic dreamscape pop of ‘The Impossible Idea” (title courtesy “Brother NG” – i.e., Noel Gallagher) wraps up with an infectious melody that will stick in the head long after the rest of the album has left it. So, while this may not pull in any new fans, there are enough out there in Weller’s core base to guarantee another hit for his new employers at Parlophone (it’s already gone Top 5 in its first week of release), evidence that Weller’s mellower years are attracting even more followers than the angry young man persona of his youth.

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