Yep Roc 2008
More than 30 years into his career, Paul Weller has made his most varied and surprising album. He’s made plenty of good and even great records in the past, with the Jam, the Style Council and on his own, but 22 Dreams is really something unique in his catalog, and it’s refreshing to hear him changing the script like this so late in the game. The album’s 21 tracks (dream #22 is a story by Simon Armitage, included in the CD booklet) simultaneously introduce a host of new ideas to Weller’s music and play like a microcosm of his career and musical life, ranging from crunching rock to piano ballads and truly dream-like psychedelia. It may be his finest solo effort, and easily hangs with its closest contenders, 1997’s Heavy Soul and 1993’s Wild Wood.
There’s a real sense on 22 Dreams that Weller had no expectations for it going in, that he simply let it flow, in somewhat the same way a dream can take you from a sandy beach to your parents’ kitchen in the space of a heartbeat. And so its generally brief songs detour in ways none of his other albums do, wandering where his omnivorous muse leads them. Dig the way the sensitive soul-man piano ballad “Invisible” segues directly to the psychedelic instrumental “Song for Alice”, a strange, harp-soaked tribute to the late Alice Coltrane that puts Weller’s sometime suppressed love of jazz on full display.
Those jazz elements come into play again on one of the album’s best tracks, “One Bright Star”, which rides a subdued tango rhythm and billows with clouds of piano. Spanish guitar, wordless and ghostly female vocals, and haunting orchestration complete the mood and provide a spooky playground for Weller’s voice, which only gets more soulful with age. Part of that soulfulness has always been there– he’s naturally gifted with husky, powerful pipes– but he’s also learned how to phrase his melodies in such a way that it accentuates the soul element of his work. “Have You Made Up Your Mind”, for instance, is a pretty basic British trad-rock song, but his vocal pulls it to another level.
Weller’s wide circle of friends, built largely during the height of the Britpop movement he played godfather to, puts plenty of collaborators at his disposal, including Blur’s Graham Coxon (playing drums, no less), Robert Wyatt, Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, and Gem Archer, and Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Cradock, a long-time collaborator who’s on as co-producer as well. Even god gets a guest credit for the thunder and rain on the pastoral closing instrumental. God even speaks through guest narrator Aziz Ibrahim on “God”, one of the album’s more indulgent digressions, wherein he rebukes a prayerful man, excoriating him for “only calling when you need me” and telling him to “look at you, not at me.”
Even when they do fall a little flat, such digressions help to make 22 Dreams such an interesting, replayable album. This stands pretty much alone in Weller’s catalog in terms of sheer eclecticism and unpredictable, dream-like flow. I give Weller a lot of credit wanting to change the usual script at this point in his career– it’s amazing to think that there were rumors he was done recording several years ago when he still had this much creativity in him. It’s a good thing the rumors weren’t true, because 22 Dreams is one of his most enjoyable solo albums.
– Joe Tangari, July 22, 2008