22 Dreams – 4 1/2 Stars
Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Of all the many things Paul Weller has done in his career, he has somehow managed to survive three decades without a double album to his credit. 22 Dreams rectifies that wrong, offering a luxurious sprawl that’s proudly, staunchly classicist, just like Weller’s solo career itself. Weller’s embrace of rock & roll tradition might suggest that he has taken his double album as an opportunity to offer a summation of his career, to summarize where he’s been and perhaps where he’s going. Tempting though this may be, especially given the record’s elastic, elegant eclecticism, this isn’t quite a self-conscious summation, nor is it quite a risk-taking tour de force in the vein of the White Album, even though this encompasses everything from fragile folk to the resurrection of the sophisticated collegiate jazz of the Style Council. Instead, 22 Dreams has a floating romantic quality that justifies the dreams of the title, drifting from sound to sound, sometimes taking elaborate detours, sometimes stopping for a brief picturesque sideshow. In some ways, it’s the flip of the pile driving As Is Now, where Weller indulged in harder inclinations, as this finds Weller exploring his softer side, often in ways he hasn’t quite done before.
There’s still a crustiness to Weller — he’ll get sensitive, but he won’t get sappy — but there’s an openness to 22 Dreams, in how he eases into a Curtis Mayfield homage as comfortably as he pays tribute to Alice Coltrane with Robert Wyatt in tow. Wyatt isn’t the only guest here, either, as Weller expands his core band — without leaving right-hand man guitarist Steve Craddock — with cameos by Graham Coxon and Noel Gallagher (only he could unite these Brit-pop foes), the latter collaborating on a thick, hazy psychedelic “Echoes Round the Sun.” This is about as dense as 22 Dreams gets, as it has a lighter touch, so graceful that it can disguise the number of styles Weller touches upon here, as he skips from electronica and pastoral jams lingering from Wild Wood to jazz and soul. Initially, this doesn’t sound radical — it is recognizably of a piece with his solo work, fitting neatly alongside either Stanley Road or Illumination — but more listens reveal just how finely textured and woven this tapestry is. And although it shares superficial sonic similarities with his other records, 22 Dreams is really unlike any of Weller’s other albums, as it’s rich in sound and feeling, possessing a shimmering dreamy quality. It’s an album to get lost in.