Monday June 9, 2008
By Alan Jones
Leadership of the albums chart changes for the 10th week in a row, with Paul Weller the latest artist through the ever-revolving door, debuting in pole position with his ninth solo studio album (15th, including compilations and live discs), 22 Dreams.
It is the third number one solo album for Weller, who turned 50 a couple of weeks ago, following 1995’s Stanley Road, which achieved first-week sales of 62,603; and 2002’s Illumination (54,283). His 2004 covers album Studio 150 was also on schedule to debut at number one but slipped to number two at the last moment, with first week sales of 52,335. His last studio album As Is Now opened at number four in 2003, with sales of 43,094. 22 Dreams scores his second-best first-week tally (after Stanley Road), opening with 58,924 sales.
Paul Discusses His Dreams Track By Track!
PAUL WELLER ’22 DREAMS’
“After As Is Now I thought the time was right to make the sort of record I wanted to make” says Paul Weller of the creative process which led to his extraordinary ninth solo album 22 Dreams. “Instead of worrying about anyone else, I wanted to really push the boat out. I think the result is going to surprise a few people.”
Recorded over the course of a year at Black Barn Studios in Woking, 22 Dreams will do more than that. A kaleidoscopic tour de force incorporating rock, funk, soul, free jazz, krautrock, classical, spoken word, electronica and all stops in between, it’s a seventy minute (m)odysssey delivered with a verve and ambition to shame musicians half his edge.
“I’ve never understood the need to put music into boxes” says Paul.
“To me, it all comes form the same source. I could listen to Debussy one minute, then some avant-garde jazz album, then Curtis Mayfield the next. It all comes from the same source.”
For those who’ve followed Paul’s unparalleled thirty year journey through British pop, 22 Dreams should come as no surprise. Having split up The Jam at the height of their powers in 1982, he spent the rest of the eighties challenging pop convention with The Style Council (including an attempt to turn a reluctant audience on to Acid House in 1989). In the nineties, he pioneered a new form of psychedelic folk-rock -accurately described by Robert Wyatt as “new furniture seasoned from old wood” -which reinstalled him as the pre-eminent songwriter of his generation. Nonetheless, following the top five success of As Is Now and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Brits in 2007, he could have been forgiven for resting on his laurels. But then, that’s never been Paul’s way.
“I felt I’d gone as far as I could with the band with As Is Now, so I decided to freshen things up. In the studio it was mostly just me, Steve Cradock and (producer) Simon Dine. We recorded very quickly. People would come down to the Barn, and if they had an idea, they’d go straight in and record. It was all about catching the feeling rather than scrutinising every last detail.”
Featuring an illustrious roll-call of guest musicians including Noel Gallagher and Gem from Oasis (on the staggering Weller/Gallagher composition ‘Echoes Around The Sun’ ), Graham Coxon (‘Black River’), Little Barrie (“22 Dreams”) and folk guitarist John McCrusker (‘Light Nights’), 22 Dreams also reflects a personal milestone in Paul’s life.
“I’m fifty this year, and I think that contributed to the sense of urgency (laughs). But it also made me want to make something really special. I wanted to make an album with a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s why the two songs ‘Light Nights’ and ‘Night Light’s’ are at the first and last tracks. It’s designed to be listened to in one sitting, in the same way that Pet Sounds or Sgt Pepper were.”
Indeed. In a climate where download culture seems to have relegated the album to a marketing ploy, 22 Dreams stands as a reminder of days when LPs were designed to challenge as well as thrill the audience. From the glorious blue-eyed soul of ‘Have You Made Up Your Mind?’ to the staggering psych-pop of Weller/Gallagher collaboration ‘Echoes Around the Sun’ it is crammed full of classic tunes, yet as raw and visceral as anything he’s produced. Experimental outings such as ‘111’ –inspired by German avant-rockers AMM- and ‘God’ -a spoken word piece by former Ian Brown guitarist Aziz Ibrahim- are also a reminder that Paul’s cultural antennae remain as finely tuned as ever.
“’I’ve had the lyrics for ‘God’ for about seven or eight years. Obviously in the current climate people are focusing on issues like race and religion, but the fact that Aziz is Muslim just gave it an extra dimension.”
If the musical range is staggering, the themes – love, exile, nostalgia, the passage of time – are as universal as music itself. In career terms, 22 Dreams is as bold, brave and exhilarating as those other classic albums released when Paul was at a creative crossroads -All Mod Cons, Confessions Of A Pop Group and Wildwood. Not that the ever-modest Paul would talk it up.
“The best way I can describe it is as a year in my life” he says of these sublime inner visions. “We started recording last Spring, and the mood of the album evolved as time went on. Recording at the Barn played a big part in it. You get some beautiful sunsets down there. When we finished the final track, ‘Night Light’s’ there was a huge electrical storm, and we took the microphones outside to capture the sound of the rain falling. It symbolises the year coming full circle.”
Paul Weller: a man for all seasons.
Paul Moody, London, 2008
22 DREAMS: TRACK BY TRACK
1.) Light Nights
“This was one of the first songs we recorded. It’s about the new season coming on. That feeling of optimism and hope you get as the days get lighter and longer. The folk guitarist John McCusker plays on it, top man. “
2.) 22 Dreams
“Little Barrie and his band came down to the studio and played on this one. It’s a rocking tune. I like the idea of collaborating with new people. If you listen to the lyric there’s an explanation as to why there’s only twenty-one tracks on the album. I need to keep one for myself!”
3.) All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)
“Lyrically, it’s been knocking around for ages. I had the words on an old note pad, and me and Steve started up a tune and the words seemed to fit with the music. It’s a pretty straightforward love song.”
4.) Have You Made Up Your Mind?
“It’s one of the earliest tunes we did. People ask me whether I’d started listening to Curtis Mayfield or Chairman Of the Board again, but that music is in my blood. I’m always playing it. It’s a double ‘A’ side on the first single.”
5.) Empty Ring
“I got the idea for this from a picture I saw of an old boxer in the ring. That image really appealed to me- there’s that moment where you have to put down your gloves and admit that you should give it a rest. I suppose it’s a metaphor for anyone who feels they’ve been in the same situation too long.”
“I wrote this on the guitar but then I thought I’d try it out on the piano. I’m not that proficient on piano, so I changed the chords, and it seemed to fit. It’s one man’s story, but again, anyone can relate to it. It’s about a relationship where someone doesn’t seem to get noticed. Where no matter what you do, you end up blending in with the wallpaper.”
7.) Song For Alice
“It’s an homage to Alice Coltrane. I ’m a big fan of hers, and her old man, of course. It was terrble news when she passed away last year. It’s a nod to her. There are a few stylistic references –the arpeggiated piano flourishes and the harp, obviously, and there’s some tambura in there.”
8.) Cold Moments
“I was trying to write one of those classic soul songs. I played bass on this one. It’s a got a bit of a Style Council feel to it I suppose. Coincidentally, it’s the only one Whitey played drums on.”
9.) The Dark Pages Of September Lead To The New Leaves of Spring
“This was originally intended as a coda to ‘Empty Ring’, which went on too long originally. But I think it works better as an interlude between the two sides of the album. On the vocals at the end I was aiming at a Fifth Dimension feel.”
10.) Black River
“This was originally the B-side of the ‘This Old Town’ single I did with Graham Coxon. I didn’t feel it got enough attention at the time so I thought I’d dust it off and give it a bit more exposure. You can hear the sound of me tap dancing on the chorus if you listen closely. I like to do a bit of tap!”
11.) Why Walk When You Can Run
“It’s a message from me to my youngest son. He’s at that age where they’ve got no fear, where they’re not yet aware of what the world might throw at them I didn’ t want to make it sound too epic.There’s still a bit of an abrasive edge to it.”
12.) Push It Along
“This one started off with Simon (Dine). He had an idea for a groove and we started building it from there. At first it seems like it’s a straightforward R&B tune,a nd you expect it to follow the standard metre. But I decided to experiment so there’s an atonal bit in the verse which was inspired by some Arabic poetry. It’s got a real kick to it. “
13.) A Dream Reprise
“This started off as a coda for ’22 Dreams’, but we looped it and turned it into something else. It really fits at the start of ‘Echoes’”
14.) Echoes Around The Sun
“Noel came down to the studio with this loop he’d never been able to do anything with. He played the bass and the piano and then Gem played guitar on top. I extemporised some \vocals over the top. In songwriting terms, it’s the firdst Weller/Gallagher collaboration. It’s a top tune- it’ll be a double ‘A’ side of the first single.”
15.) One Bright Star
“This is a tango, I’ve been wanting to do one for ages. It’s such a romantic style of music. I got the original idea from listening to this Algerian singer called Souad Massi. She’s great, really inspirational.”
16.) Lullaby Fur Kinder
“It’s the song I play to the kids to make them fall asleep! (laughs). I dip in and out of all sorts of music. I don’t see genres –you just listen to different things at different times. This was inspired by my interest in Eric Satie, Debussy and an English composer called William Walton.”
17.) Where’er Ye Go
“I love the song ‘Danny Boy’. The lyrics are amazing. I was after the same thing here. It’s written from the perspective of a Scottish Lord in the 1800s waiting for his wayward son to come home. He’s worried about him, but he still can’t wait to be reunited. I guess it’s something everyone can relate to in some shape or form.”
“I remember (Steve) Cradock saying halfway through the recording ‘what we need now is a spoken word track. I had the lyrics in an old notebook. I’d written them seven or eight years ago. Then Aziz came down to the studio and we just did it. The fact that he’s Muslim obviously gives it another dimension.”
“This is an experimental track. I’ve never done anything as full tilt as this. Me and Steve Cradock were playing two different mellotrons and Simon Dine was on the mini-moog. It was really liberating not to have a standard chord sequence. We really got off on that. It’s influenced by a great ‘60’s avant-garde group called AMM.”
20.) Sea Spray
“For me the last four songs on the album – ‘God’, ‘111’. ‘Sea Spray’ and ‘Night Lights’ work really well together. It’s an optimistic tune. A bit of light at the end of the tunnel”.
21.) Night Lights
“There are a lot of mentions of the seasons in my songs, and this is another one. We recorded it with the studio door open. You get some beautiful sunsets down at the Barn. When we finished the final track, there was a huge electrical storm, and we took the microphones outside to capture the sound of the rain falling. It symbolises the year coming full circle’.
Cheers Carl aka Scotty94!