From The Sun
By JACQUI SWIFT
Published: 29 May 2008
PAUL WELLER – 22 Dreams
PAUL WELLER turned 50 on Sunday.
When we meet, just a few days before his big day, the bags under his eyes suggest that the celebrations might have started early. Immaculately dressed, as ever, in a navy woollen jumper with his grown-out mod cut, he’s very different from the paunchy, balding figures most men of his age present. He tells me he rolled in from a gig in Leicester in the early hours. “You know what it’s like — we had to celebrate with a few beers after.” Whether he means a few or a few too many, what’s clear is that it’s been a long, long day. Hung over, he’s been rehearsing at the BBC’s Later . . . studios since morning. “We had to get here at 10 o’clock. What’s that all about?” he says in his gruff Woking accent.
On Monday he releases his ninth solo album, 22 Dreams, a double CD containing the most varied music of his solo career.
“I was determined to make a double album for my 50th — a present to myself. I thought it would be what people would least expect.”
As with his career, when it comes to birthdays, Weller is down to earth.
“I’m not having any big birthday party. I’m not doing anything to be honest. I’m not really a***d about it one way or the other. As for any surprise parties, they’ve all been f***ing warned about that!” he laughs.
Turning 50, says Weller, means nothing. “I don’t feel any different to, say, 20 years ago though I’m sure I look different. But then if I stop and think about being 50 it is quite monumental.
“I never thought I’d be alive at 50, never mind making music. When I was younger I couldn’t imagine beyond 25 — I thought life stopped.”
But Weller admits his half-century has made him question his mortality.
“It has made me appreciate things more, especially life. I appreciate my kids and I appreciate still making music — good music, in my opinion.”
22 Dreams is Weller’s most diverse offering yet. Style-wise it covers the whole of his 30-plus-year career from his angry days of The Jam to the white soul music of The Style Council as well as elements of his highly successful solo career.
From opening track, the folky and eastern vibes of Light Nights to the Krautrock instrumental 111, 22 Dreams includes some of Weller’s weirdest as well as most wonderful tracks. All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You), Cold Moments and the sublime Have You Made Up Your Mind, are numbers high on his all-time solo list.
He says: “We’ve touched on some of the styles before but not all of them. But I suppose it is the most eclectic album I’ve made.
“I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to make As Is Now part two.
“A few people have said it covers my career. It wasn’t intentional. Whether it happened on a subconscious level, I don’t know.
“It just came out of the desire to move on without being too stylised or false.
“There was an air of: F**k it, just go for it. Really push the boat out and don’t worry if people think you’ve gone mad.
“Because I was working with new people — there were four of us producing — it wasn’t all on my shoulders. Everyone put in ideas and brought different things to the table.
“It’s me and (Ocean Colour Scene guitarist) Steve Cradock playing most of it with a few guests, then Simon Dine from Noonday Underground and also Charles Rees, our engineer down at the studio. It was just everyone pitching ideas.
“And I can remember getting to the end of the record and us all having a playback and everyone in the room loving it. Then we thought, ‘we’ve still got to go and play this to people and that will be the moment of truth’.”
Weller says 22 Dreams doesn’t have any real meaning behind it but just fitted the record.
“I thought 22 Dreams sounded like a poetic title. It’s a little journey — I don’t want to get too poncey about it — but it took us a whole year to make the record, so we saw the whole cycle of a year. There are elements of the seasons, the elements, thunderstorms, and bird sounds. That kind of stuff.”
Talking about the album, he is visibly proud of his latest work — and the writer’s block that dogged him a few years back has gone.
“I’ve lived long enough to know that the creative process comes and goes. Sometimes it flows and sometimes it doesn’t and you’ve just got to wait for it to happen again.”
As if to mark a new chapter musically, Weller has a new band line-up with guitarist Steve Cradock, his long-time accomplice, the only remaining member.
Weller explains: “(Drummer) Steve White didn’t fancy doing it. Not for any animosity or bad feeling, I just think he’s enjoying having a bit of time off, which is fair enough because we’ve played together for 17 years or something mad like that.
“In a way it was good because it forced the issue to get a new band — Steve Pilgrim from Liverpool band The Stands plays the drums. Andy Lewis who I did a track with for record label Acid Jazz last year is playing bass for us now. Then there’s Andy Crofts, who was in The On Offs, playing keyboards.
“And it’s been really good — for me, Steve Cradock and for the music. The music is fresh again and we’re enthusiastic about it.”
Echoes Round The Sun is Weller’s first track written with Noel Gallagher — something fans have been waiting for since they performed Talk Tonight on TV show The White Room in 1995 and covered The Beatles’ Come Together as The Smokin’ Mojo Filters in the same year. “It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. We had got to the end of the record and I was saying to everyone that I needed one more rocking tune for the balance. I just spoke to Noel and said ‘Do you fancy writing for the album?’
“He sent me a very rough idea of the drums on Echoes and I did a little bit of work on it. Then we sent it back and forwards and then he and Gem (Archer) came down for an afternoon. We had the backing track done in about half an hour.”
Surprisingly, Weller admits he could never start writing a song from scratch with his great friend, as both would feel uncomfortable.
“It wouldn’t work for me and him sitting in a room with two acoustic guitars. I’d be too self-conscious. I’m not the sort of person who can do that. And I think he’s the same.
“Although we’ve got a lot of common ground — we’ve both come from working-class backgrounds and both like The Beatles and The Sixties, there are loads of things about us which are totally different as well. It’s just mutual respect really.”
Weller also enlisted ex-Blur guitarist Graham Coxon for cameo duties on track Black River and one-time Stone Roses guitarist Aziz Ibrahim on God, a spoken-word track that suggests The Modfather has found religion.
“I’ve had the poem for ages. I’ve not been able to use it even though I liked the sentiment in it. Then Steve Cradock was saying we really needed a poem on this album. Aziz just came down on a social visit and we got him to do it. It’s an interesting one because he’s a very devout Muslim man — it’s an interesting twist.
“I don’t know about finding God. God finds you, I think. I don’t have any belief in any organised religion. I find that all very divisive.
“I wouldn’t knock any organised religion. If it gives people faith and strength it’s a good thing. But if it divides people it’s the antithesis of what it’s supposed to be about.”
And if God is the biggest surprise on 22 Dreams, then 111 is Weller’s most experimental.
“Some tracks on this album are like springboards into the future for me. I I don’t know if I’d want to do a whole album of it but I’d like to enlarge on some of that stuff more.
“I love the last four tracks on the album. There’s something spiritual about it, and really deep.”
A poignant moment on the album is Why Walk When You Can Run, which was inspired by the youngest of Weller’s five kids, Mac.
“I wrote that watching my three-year-old son last summer in Spain. That fearlessness they have when they’re that age, watching him just run into the sea. I saw it as a metaphor for how to live life. Don’t let people hold you back. Go for it.
“My kids are by far my biggest inspiration today. Kids keep you young as you have to be optimistic and positive for them. You can’t sit around complaining, criticising and being cynical.
“From a 20-year-old son to a three-year-old with all the slots in between, it’s brilliant, even though they’re knackering.
“I still have my angry moments but I’m quite happy to change and adapt, as this album shows. I can still be fiery in my music when I want to or need to be.
“My music still has and always will have that passion.”
From The Living Scotsman
Published Date: 30 May 2008
By Fiona Shepherd
PAUL WELLER: 22 DREAMS
PAUL Weller has just turned 50. I know – and he’s still getting away with that bogbrush mod hairdon’t. Anyway. With two successful (one classic) bands in his past, a solo career that allows his many acolytes continued access to the hem of his garment and even a lifetime achievement award from the Brits on his sideboard, where can a middle-aged Modfather go?
Trundling down the same old dadrock road to eventual retirement, one would have thought. The fans would be content enough with that. Noel Gallagher, self-appointed national arbiter of taste, wouldn’t raise an objection. But Weller has other ideas, dangerous ideas involving a 70-minute concept album, available as a double LP (and single CD too, if you insist), which will take a year to record and will sonically represent the changing of the seasons. An idea crazier than getting a wedge haircut and forming The Style Council. Can someone have a word with him, please? Too late, Gallagher, he’s already gone and done it – and you’re on it too. And, against the odds, it’s pretty damn good.
There are 21 tracks on 22 Dreams, and most of them are worth the time of day (or season). In scale, ambition and variety, this is Weller’s equivalent of The White Album, or at least his Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. Stylistically, he visits places he hasn’t been before, breaking into a tango on One Bright Star, embarking on a Moog and Mellotron odyssey called 111, and using esoteric instrumentation such as bouzouki, hornpipes and other poncy stuff you might have thought Weller would have no truck with. He even breaks out a celeste at one point.
But instead of coming across as indulgent, there is a prevailing lightness of touch to most of the album that contrasts with his usual terribly manly mod rock. It sounds like playtime in the studio. Playmates include Graham Coxon (on drums), John McCusker and, crucially, producer Simon Dine, who has demonstrated that he has a soundtrack-like ear on his own recordings as Noonday Underground.
The opening raga reverie of Light Nights is pure George Harrison. Weller’s regular guitarist Steve Craddock of Ocean Colour Scene is in hippie heaven with his 12-string. From this patchouli-scented intro, he snaps back to the sturdy retro beat pop of the title track, complete with blaring horns and a sense that all systems are go.
All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You) is Weller in more contemplative, romantic mood. Although not as brazenly heartstring-tugging as You Do Something To Me, it’s a good example of devotion delivered straight. Equally unforced is the pastoral soul of current single Have You Made Up Your Mind.
The sonorous piano ballad Invisible is a little bleeding heart but takes its place happily in the company, which is one positive sign that this album is more than the sum of its diverse parts.
Among the highlights along the way are the twinkling retro pop of Empty Ring and The Dark Pages of September Lead to The New Leaves Of Spring. This is where Dine really comes into his own, rivalling the wide-eyed euphoria of The Avalanches, Polyphonic Spree or Blur’s To The End. Cold Moments, which sounds like vintage Love or The Zombies, is also lovely and light on its feet thanks to an airy piano figure, but is also infused with Weller’s signature mod soul style.
Every concept album needs its ill-advised spoken word track, and this one has God, recited by former Ian Brown collaborator Aziz Ibrahim. But far more far out is the alluring Song For Alice, a groovy, cascading, jazzy instrumental tribute to the sublime Alice Coltrane, featuring the idiosyncratic Robert Wyatt on both piano and trumpet.
In contrast, Push It Along is straightforward Stonesy R&B in case the lads are feeling neglected. It is followed by the Noel Gallagher number, Echoes Round The Sun, a track that might be called progress if it appeared on an Oasis album but sounds a bit spot- the-influence beside some of the naturally flowing material here.
Then it is back to where we came in, with Weller and ensemble floating off on their musical magic carpet on the closing Night Lights. According to the sleevenotes, God makes a guest appearance on this track.
Weller asks that the album be listened to in one go, rather than chopped up on your iPod. Those who follow his wishes will be the most rewarded, as the tracks flow into each other, before veering off on their little tangents. Poet Simon Armitage offers his own take on the album in the form of a story in the sleeve booklet – 22 Dreams has definitely taken him on one trippy trip. And it is certainly the most intriguing journey Paul Weller has embarked on in years.
From The Independent
Album: Paul Weller, 22 Dreams (Island)
(Rated 5/ 5 )
Reviewed by Andy Gill
Friday, 30 May 2008
Paul Weller’s return to Island Records for the first time since 2000’s Heliocentric seems like a homecoming of sorts, especially so given the eclectic, engaged nature of his new album. 22 Dreams is like an old-school Island album from the label’s Seventies heyday, progressive (but absolutely not prog-rock), tinged with jazz and folksy elements, alert to the turning seasons, capturing the rural breezes, open to hope and fellowship – and, most importantly, its soul rooted in thoughtful, occasionally inspired songwriting. For me, it’s the best thing he’s done – but then I never much cared for The Jam. Or The Style Council. Or much of his previous solo stuff.
What’s impressive is the sheer breadth of musical vision in these 21 songs, from the nu-folk opener “Light Nights” to its obverse urban closer “Night Lights”, taking in all manner of rock, soul and R&B variants, some quite unexpected, even shocking. Who’d have thought Paul Weller could be found indulging in abstract electronica (“111”), soundscaped spoken-word poetry (“God”), or barrelhouse piano and spoons (“Black River”)? Or the jazz-rock of “Song For Alice”, a tribute to Alice Coltrane, whose mélange of piano glissandi, backwards tapes, wisps of sitar and Robert Wyatt’s haunting trumpet evokes the jazz harpist’s swirling style? Weller seems to have lost the fear of artsy-fartiness that condemned him to dad-rock drudgery. The result is this extraordinary offering, his very own White Album.
Wyatt is a significant influence; another is Simon Dine, whose arrange-ments are a crucial feature of 22 Dreams, providing on the reflective “Empty Ring” the kind of depth that Rich Tufo’s strings brought to Curtis Mayfield’s work, while employing marimba and Moog to bring a different kind of energy to the railroad rocker “Push It Along”. Multi-instrumentalist Steve Cradock is a notable contributor, and Noel Gallagher does his best work in years – and sounds like he’s enjoying himself – on the psychedelic rocker “Echoes Around the Sun”.
But Weller is the keystone, writing with maturity and confidence about things such as fatherhood (“Why Walk When You Can Run”), and performing with the wistful, elegiac air of Springsteen on “Where’er Ye Go” and a lilting tropicalia calm on the samba groove of “One Bright Star”, and with his native rocker’s ebullience on the title track.
Of all the generation of 1977, Weller was probably the most rooted, the one you’d least expect to develop an exotic musical imagination; but those roots, it seems, have nourished his muse to an extent currently unrivaled by his peers.
Pick of the album:’Song For Alice’, ‘Light Nights’, ‘Night Lights’, ‘Empty Ring’, ‘Where’er Ye Go’
From The Guardian
Paul Weller, 22 Dreams
Friday May 30, 2008
It is August 1983 and the letters page of Smash Hits is ablaze with controversy. The cause is the video for the Style Council’s new single Long Hot Summer. It features Paul Weller, saucy in bare chest and espadrilles, fondling the ears of his new musical collaborator “Merton” Mick Talbot. It may qualify as the least erotic piece of homoeroticism ever captured on film: “Merton” Mick’s facial expression suggests not the bliss of Zeus and Ganymede but disappointment and confusion, as if a golden career opportunity isn’t really panning out as he had expected. Nevertheless, it’s enough to cause uproar among teenage male Weller fans: in a world of gender-bending synth prodders, the former Jam frontman is supposed to be a dependable source of resolutely blokeish rock. Anguished letters flood in, until the editors are forced to intervene in time-honoured Smash Hits style: sniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip!
But the ear-fondling imbroglio is just the first step on the Style Council’s increasingly erratic path. “Merton” Mick’s crestfallen expression will become a familiar sight while Weller variously dresses as a cyclist, collaborates with Lenny Henry and is photographed wearing loincloth and bodypaint. Things come to a particularly barmy head with the Style Council’s final gig, at which Weller wears fluorescent shorts and performs a choreographed dance routine to booing from the audience.
Fluorescent shorts, choreographed dance routines, loincloths, pretending to be gay: today, the Style Council’s career seems less like something that actually happened than a particularly weird dream someone once had about Paul Weller. That it does is testament to the success of his 1990s reinvention as precisely the dependable trad-rocker his fans always wanted him to be. It brought him vast commercial success, but diminishing artistic returns: his recent albums have been so workmanlike the writer Jon Savage cruelly dubbed him Paul Welder.
The first sign that something markedly different is up comes with Weller’s ninth solo album. Echoes Around the Sun is a single so strange and gripping that it’s almost impossible to believe the dread hand of Noel Gallagher was involved. But apparently he and Gem Archer were responsible for the backing, a grinding Stooges riff overlaid with corrosively distorted drums, bursts of morse code-like feedback, melodramatic strings and a crashing piano. It all keeps threatening to drown out Weller’s muttering vocal. What on earth is going on?
As it turns out, what is going on is a fairly dramatic rethink that suggests the maverick spirit behind the Style Council has once more been unleashed. No one gets their ears fondled – at least not literally – but 22 Dreams is eclectic, deeply strange and cheeringly unlike anything Weller has done before. There are atonal, improvised synthesiser pieces and instrumentals that recall the outer limits of the Beach Boys’ Smile. There is acid folk, in the shape of the Pentangle-influenced opener Light Nights, the glorious Sea Spray and an alternately troubled and celebratory meditation on fatherhood called Why Walk When You Can Run. There is a song called Empty Ring that seems to be taking place on top of the Avalanches’ Since I Left You. And there is stuff that doesn’t just sound like anything else, including the implausibly exciting Push It Along, a raging mess of frantically-thrashed acoustic guitar, marimba, noisy abstract soloing and grunting backing vocals allied to a song that lurches forward in ways it’s impossible to predict.
Even the most straightforward tracks are lent a strange depth by careering, ramshackle performances: the ballads sound shifty and troubled, the rock songs gleefully propulsive. Meanwhile, the more excessive moments – including a piano instrumental called Lullaby Für Kinder that sounds rather more like Richard Clayderman than you suspect Weller realises – add to the delightful sense of a previously constrained imagination suddenly running riot: no matter how baffling it may be, everything here sounds purposeful rather than weird for weird’s sake. The songs crash into each other in a way that recalls a tipsy friend ripping records from the turntable before they’re finished in order to play you something else they’re wildly enthusiastic about.
Quite what has provoked all this remains a mystery. Perhaps he was jolted from his comfort zone by the nascent pop career of his son Nat, who describes himself as “kind of a mix between Victoria Beckham and Marilyn Manson”. Perhaps the horror of having David Cameron announce his love for the Jam’s The Eton Rifles has alerted Weller to the possibility of being too conventional for your own good. Or perhaps, after boring everyone else with album after album of grimacing man-rock plod, Weller finally succeeded in boring himself. Whatever the reason, 22 Dreams is a triumph of the most unexpected kind.
It’s a commonly held belief that Paul Weller’s every waking hour is soundtracked by a steady stream of Small Faces EPs and old Traffic albums. The reality is rather more complicated. Ask Weller what music he’s been listening to in the years approaching his 50th birthday and he will recount a list of CD acquisitions that would shame the most eclectic buyer.
You’ll hear him praising the pastoral English modernism of Vaughan Williams and William Walton, the lesser known works of Debussy and Ravel, the space-age jazz of Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane, the oddball medieval funk of hobo composer Moondog, the Rastafarian trance music of Cedric “Im” Brooks or the drone-laden avant rock of the first Velvet Underground album.
This leftfield playlist is not, in fairness, something that one may reasonably conclude from a cursory listen to much of his solo output – until now. 22 Dreams takes some of those arcane influences and pushes them through a distinctly Weller-ish filter. This is not an album by the Modfather, or the high priest of dadrock. This is an album by the Paul Weller who has spent much of the last 30 years straying outside his comfort zone, and this is his White Album, a sprawling, epic and compelling song-cycle that channels a century of influences into one exhausting 21-track album.
While 1997’s Heavy Soul may have flirted with zithers, harmoniums and sitars, Weller hasn’t released an album this adventurous in 20 years, when he signed the Style Council’s death warrant with Confessions Of A Pop Group. Widely ridiculed at the time (most memorably by Uncut’s Allan Jones in the Melody Maker, who compared Weller to “the slow kid in the class”), Confessions is, in retrospect, a curate’s egg that’s well worthy of reappraisal. Little effort was made at the time to satisfy the Weller loyalists who – horrified by the use of the Swingle Singers and the pastiches of Chick Corea, the Beach Boys and Erik Satie – quickly dumped the album in their nearest charity shop and deserted their idol for the best part of a decade. 22 Dreams, however, is rather more faithful to the Weller brand: tributes to Martin Denny, AMM and Alice Coltrane are mixed with more familiar Weller hallmarks – psych-rock nuggets, horn-heavy turbo punk and Nick Drake-ish folk-soul.
Much of the credit for this sonic adventurousness goes to producer Simon Dine, Weller’s old Mod pal from the cinematic funk outfit Noonday Underground. Dine’s recent work as the producer and co-writer behind Candie Payne’s 2007 retro-soul album I Wish I Could Have Loved You More might suggest that he’s a Mark Ronson-style pastiche merchant, but here he pushes Weller into more leftfield territory, getting him to improvise over various loops, samples and drones. Sometimes the results are modernist miniatures such as “111” (a BBC Radiophonic Workshop-style mix of rumbling bass clarinet, Mellotron drones and ghostly Mini Moogs, apparently inspired by the aforementioned AMM), or “Song For Alice” (a tribute to John Coltrane’s late widow that’s an ocean of sweeping piano, tamboura drones, hand percussion and muted trumpet).
On other tracks the experimental ideas sit alongside more familiar Weller-ish bombast: “Push It Along”, for instance, opens with a hypnotic marimba pattern that sounds like one of Carl Orff’s spooky Christmas carols before mutating into a copper-bottomed power-pop stomper. “It goes a bit atonal on the verse,” says Weller. “There’s a bit inspired by some Arabic poetry.”
There are several other excellent collaborations here that are as good as anything he’s ever done. “Black River”, the b-side to his Graham Coxon collaboration “This Old Town”, is one of Weller’s finest four minutes, a woozy Nick Drake shuffle that mutates into a “Park Life”-style cockernee knees up.
“Echoes Around The Sun”, Weller’s first co-write with Noel Gallagher, takes a dramatic two-note bassline that Gallagher couldn’t find a use for and turns it into an epic Bond theme, all backwards guitars and Bollywood strings. The title track, meanwhile, sees him team up with retro funksters Little Barrie to create one of his sharpest slices of horn-heavy pop-punk since the last days of The Jam.
For someone who has seems to have spent most of the past 15 years embracing rockism, 22 Dreams also sees Weller revisiting the R&B that has been sadly lacking from much of his solo work. “Empty Ring” is one of those big, string-laden blue-eyed soul belters – like “Luck”, “Headstart For Happiness” or “Changing Of The Guard” – that you’d often find hidden away on Style Council b-sides, as is “Cold Moments”, with its Motown bassline and Curtis Mayfield chords. It segues into a “Dark Pages Of September Lead To The New Leaves Of Spring”, a summery interlude that pitches up somewhere between the Beach Boys, Rotary Connection and the Pearl & Dean theme, all wordless vocals and lush woodwind.
Like the White Album, there are a couple of stinkers, though tellingly, they’re the most conservative efforts: the dreary “Why Walk When You Can Run” and “Invisible” (which sounds exactly like one of those piano ballad parodies that Hugh Laurie used to do on “A Bit Of Fry And Laurie”). Subtract these and you have something of a minor masterpiece – and easily Weller’s finest solo album to date.
Paul Weller – 22 Dreams (Universal)
IF nothing else, you tend to associate Paul Weller with lean and muscular music – rock without any flab or fripperies.
So the big surprise about the epic 22 Dreams is just how much latitude Weller gives himself to wander off down intriguing musical backwaters.
Yes, there are the mod anthems, spirited evocations of Sixties R&B, like the title track.
But there are instrumental interludes which run the gamut from eastern classical to blithe jazz, all invested with a dream-like quality.
There are curiosities like Light Nights, which is earnest folk with a whiff of Pentangle about it, and Why Walk When You Can Run, a pining bit of acoustica which could almost belong on the latest Neil Diamond album.
There are liberal dose of strings, occasional whiffs of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye and, with the apparent theme of changing seasons, a sense of something epic happening, but without the dreary sense of self-importance which often comes with a concept album.