Paul Weller – 22 Dreams
by Rob Mc Namara
(May 31st, 2008)
Most artists creative life span may last about five to ten years, sometimes even less. Then eventually they disappear off to return with regurgitated, diluted versions of past glories. Never quite do they reach such heights again. Paul Weller is a different beast altogether. Outlasting all his punk and new wave peers he has continued to be the Changing Man in both song and spirit.
His latest long player ‘22 Dreams’, a double, sees him take the risks he has been threatening for a long time now. Recent works such as ‘Illumination’ and ‘As Is Now’ had hinted at a new direction from 1995’s seminal ‘Stanley Road’, his most commercially successful solo album to date, but here the former Jam and Style Council front-man throws in a curve ball or two which will unite and divide his vast support in equal measure.
It starts familiarly enough with the folky ‘Night Lights’ and the boogie rock bluster of the title track. However lead single ‘Have You Made Up Your Mind’ turns a new page and shows that Weller has a new spring in his step. The fresh, soulful and energetic tinges display exactly why this man is still so vitally important to modern music at a time when ‘indie alternative guitar rock’ can irritate and bore even the most patient listener.
Sixties rock inflections may be a staple of Weller’s writing habits but the radiant and delicate soulfulness of ‘Empty Ring’ and the saturnine beauty of ‘Invisible’ are a reminder of his ability to switch mood and direction in an instant without notice. ‘Black River’, a collaborative effort with Graham Coxon, is a whimsical, aloof nod to British pop at it’s most off kilter.
Noonday Underground main-man Simon Dine returns to the set up and on ‘Push It Along’ he injects his psychedelic inference as offset by Weller’s rolling rock musings. There are more collaborations to be had and Noel Gallagher pops up for a co-write on ‘Echoes Round The Sun’ with its frantic belting pace and oriental style strings. ‘One Bright Star’ is a european waltz that contrasts Weller’s image as the quintessential Englishman.
All this is seamed together by instrumentals that act like little intermissions in a play. ‘111′ is an odd electronica number that will annoy and surprise many fans but not those who know of Weller’s interest in people such as Charles Mingus. ‘Lullaby Fur Kinder’ is a short tribute to his offspring while what many have billed as the albums ‘Lenny Henry Moment’ turns out to be the most interesting of all. With shuffling percussion and upstroked acoustics as the background, ‘God’, is a thought provoking poem recited in Mancunian tongue by the excellent guitarist Aziz Ibrahim. Its the triumph of the record and one in the eye for those who challenge Weller’s creative streak.
The great thing about this record though is that it has songs that don’t sound like Paul Weller songs. He continues to explore new territory and while sometimes he may retreat back to his roots he will always set sail again to go fishing a little farther out. No other artist that is held in such high regard as an institution and inspiration to so many people has the balls to do that. He hasn’t played it safe on this one. A man of 50 years of age has no right to be making music as challenging as that of 22 Dreams but as I said earlier, Weller is a different beast altogether.