“This sounds better today than it ever did.”
Chris Roberts 2009-11-10
To many, Paul Weller is the revered Modfather, the heart of the hallowed Jam, his decades of earthy rock and blues a monument to keeping it ‘real’ with amplifiers, sweat, and no nonsense. To others, he is a flat, bloke-ish example of what turgid monotony ensues when a talented musician chickens out of straying from his roots.
Despite apparently wishing to be anything but an enigma, he is one. How could the institution so admired by Noel Gallagher ever have detoured into something as literate, romantic and camp as The Style Council? That seems now to have been a collective dream we had, as if the gorgeous, soulful Long Hot Summer and Paris Match were exotic 80s fantasies, born of over-vivid imagination.
Last year’s 22 Dreams hinted that he, too, had a vague recollection that said inspired phase actually did happen. Many of those dreams were more Curtis Mayfield than curt grump-rock. They let the air in. The re-release of his 1992 solo debut album, then, is timely, reminding us that he does delve into riskier reveries. He can be a maverick motivated by the best timeless black music, as opposed to a slave to the rhythms of 60s makeweights like Traffic and The Yardbirds.
While singles like Uh Huh Oh Yeh! and Into Tomorrow are strong but unspectacular, this sidesteps into grooves influenced by his frustrated inner soul boy. In spells he’s seduced by Funkadelic and Blue Note, and then-fresh outfits like A Tribe Called Quest. The album, intriguingly, slides midway between what we think of as The Style Council and what we think of as Paul Weller. It’s aged well: if it seemed irrelevant and drab to the indie scene of the time, its classic flourishes are now flirtatious, vibrant.
Digitally remastered, it comes with 25 bonus tracks. In demo form Bull-Rush and Butterflies reveal even more of the sensitive side one wishes he’d believe in. His acoustic version of Marvin Gaye’s Abraham, Martin & John is a beauty. He was to ignore the whines of critics and immerse himself in a viable trad-rock career. Yet somehow, Weller tends to outlast detractors and have the last laugh. This sounds better today than it ever did.