The Modfather returns with his tenth studio solo offering. After all these years has the fire burned out?
After scooping the award for Best Solo Artist at last year’s BRITS, the enigmatic Weller has proved he is anything but retiring in his older years. Five nights at the Royal Albert Hall sold out in a matter of hours, and with the promise of more tour dates, the country licks its lips at the prospect of another glimpse of a national – and musical – treasure.
‘Wake Up The Nation’ is yet another incredible offering of solo material, easily on a par with 2008’s outstanding Number One double album, ‘22 Dreams’. Right from the first smash of a piano keys it’s clear that this offering is fast-paced, floor filling rock ‘n’ roll that falls somewhere in the space between The Jam and The Style Council, a space reserved especially for Weller’s solo work.
On paper this is an album that screams boredom in familiarity. Descriptions such as ‘classic’ and ‘typically sounding’ create entirely the wrong image of what is really a further exploration into a style honed by an incredible songsmith. Whilst this collection is ‘typical’ of Weller it’s very much the next step on the long journey that has documented an impresario from his early years as a punk and mod-revivalist to an elder-statesman of cool. It is testament to Weller’s importance that after all these years he can still produce such a triumphant record and leave his audience wanting more.
The record also sees a collection of new and old talent providing an array of depth to an already broad spectrum. Whilst there are spaces for The Jam’s original bassist, Bruce Foxton, My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and The Move’s Bev Bevan, the roll call certainly beams its brightest with the addition of legendary session drummer Clem Cattini. Having appeared on forty-four UK Number One hits for acts as diverse as T-Rex, The Kinks and Hot Chocolate, the seventy-two-year-old proves age is never an issue when it comes to sheer virtuosity. Cattini’s beats run loud and clear throughout the record as he merges effortlessly from old style rock ‘n’ roll to heavy jungle infused rhythms with a twinge of the now.
‘Moonshine’ sets the tone as a ballsy kick to the teeth, screaming of fun times, complete with a Jerry Lee Lewis piano intro – but it’s with the title track that Weller really begins to shine. Combining angry snarled messages about the national state of affairs with cutting guitar this is a real classic. Foxton’s bass rings just as loud and clear as it ever did, whilst the catchy, syncopated motto of “Wake up the nation” punches hard, screaming of ’60s Rolling Stones.
Intended for double A-side release, ‘No Tears To Cry’ is an unfortunate low point for an album which otherwise is largely faultless. With its simplistic lyrical ideas of love and Motown inspired guitar sounds this falls much closer to the backyard of a Neil Diamond ballad than that of a hardened rocker.
Weller makes good use of his talents, unafraid to rely as heavily on piano as guitar, often to great effect. ‘Trees’ is a prime example of this, using a multitude of sounds and effects around a core of boogie woogie piano. The track defines Weller in four minutes, presenting the many faces of a multi-talented musician. Beginning with traditional rock ‘n’ roll its transitions between surrealist soundscapes, grunge-esque punk and soulful ballad are seamless, creating an epic masterpiece.
If there is much criticism to be had it is that Weller’s fire, passion and outrage that have so driven him before seem almost parodied during, albeit very brief, moments of the harder numbers included. ‘Grasp And Still Connect’ inexplicably mixes alt-country with a punchy punk chorus. Here Weller screams more like an ageing pub rocker still holding on rather than a leading voice and pioneer of the UK music scene. Occurrences like this are rare though, and on a whole the album’s message is strong and powerful.
There is the occasional dabble into processed sounds but on a whole this is an organic offering that proves just how much clout is left in traditional methods of producing. ‘Up The Dosage’ is precisely the ambassador needed for the later stages of this sixteen-track romp that lands just short of forty minutes. With its dark social commentary over driving, thumping rhythms it is a truly remarkable effort that even finds room to include an old Thunderbirds sample.
The final two tracks contrast remarkably, with ‘Pieces Of A Dream’ acting as a stage for Weller to display just how versatile a pianist he can be whilst masquerading as an intense come-down.
It is with the final track, though, that Weller’s restraint finally releases his party animal, with the rambunctious ‘Two Fat Ladies’ providing a perfect last hurrah.
Lean, mean and as uncompromisingly focused as its maker, this is an album for everyone’s collection, and whilst Weller is perhaps not the man he once was, the man he is now is most definitely still a force to be reckoned with. The quintessential Britishness of his music is still there as is the drive and passion, but it is with the gleaming and virtuosic musicianship that this album holds its own.
Paul Weller will long remain an institution but where some of his contemporaries have passed their best the constant renewal, progression and musical experimentation of this music ensures that not only will it still be on our playlists for ages to come it will continue to sound fresh, and that is the sign of a true legend.
Words by Chris Collington