By: Jim Farber
New York Daily News
Maybe facing 50 did the trick, but on Paul Weller’s ninth solo CD, he sounds defiantly reborn. Released just two months after hitting the half-century mark, the latest album by the prolific leader of the Jam and Style Council finds a man who boasts a long string of strong, but familiar, solo albums radically shaking things up.
On “22 Dreams,” we hear Weller venturing into instrumental jazz, experimental electronica, spoken-word poetry, even ’70s Krautrock, all for the first time.
Veteran fans shouldn’t steer clear. There’s plenty of the soul, folk, R&B and neoclassic rock that has long defined Weller’s criminally under appreciated solo work. (At least there’s a lack of appreciation in this country. In Weller’s native U.K., “22 Dreams” opened at No. 1.)
As its title implies, “22 Dreams” isn’t just long (70 minutes with 21 cuts, despite the CD’s name), it takes the form of a reverie. The songs, some more like song-ettes, link together fitfully, jerking you in directions as compelling as they are jarring. They progress through a sequence as surreal as – guess what? – a dream.
In just the CD’s first three cuts, Weller lurches from a twist on Celtic music as radical as Led Zep’s “Battle of Evermore” (“Light Nights”), to a garage-rock rave up goosed by Memphis ’67 horns (the title track), to a ballad as soulful as anything he cut with Style Council (“All I Wanna Do [Is Be With You]”).
By the album’s midsection, we’re into a cabaret piece that could have been written for Mabel Mercer (“Invisible”), an instrumental that mixes the funky piano of early ’70s Traffic with the muted trumpet of Miles Davis (“Song for Alice”), even a tango (“One Bright Star”).
Weller titled the aforementioned “Alice” track for his wife. He called another interlude, “Lullaby für Kinder.” Clearly, he has family on the brain. But even his advisory song to his son (“Why Walk When You Can Run”) steers just clear of sap. He makes an even more risky escape from a spoken-word piece called “God.” While it’s not nearly as cringe-worthy as its title implies, you won’t listen to it twice.
That’s okay, because there’s so much here and you’ll play it often. As far afield as the album runs, Weller’s unfailing melodic sense keeps things compelling, even in a moog and mellotron piece (“111”) that recalls the spacey ’70s work of Can.
The CD’s last four cuts blur together, forming a suite that culminates in a clap of thunder. Sounds so ’60s right? But in Weller’s case, it also sounds like the future.