The old man has taken on more guises than most over the years. Punk outcast, Mod clothes horse, spokesman for a generation, cod jazz connoisseur, godfather of dad rock, acid folk advocate. You name it Paul Weller has been it. Excepting that is, avant garde experimentalist. 2008’s ’22 Dreams’ hinted at a more open Weller. A man embracing many sounds and possibilities. A man at ease and no longer under pressure to sell a massive amount of album units to please a record company. Maybe ’22 Dreams’ was Paul Weller in his purest artistic form. No longer confined by the generic wall of whatever kind of music he was immersing himself at the time, he was now open and comfortable with his own success.
‘Wake Up The Nation’ sees him take that concept further still buoyed by the unexpected commercial and critical acclaim garnered of late. Much has been made of former Jam bassist Bruce Foxton returning to Weller’s company on ‘Fast Car Slow Traffic’ and and the re-union of sorts does not disappoint. Foxton brings his unique thundering dull bass sound to an angry Jam like rant. More interesting though is ‘She Speaks’ which Foxton also contributes to. It has producer Simon Dine’s stamp all over it taking it’s cue from the Noonday Underground’s debut record.
‘7 and 3 is the Strikers Name’ bustles along with a scrapyard of samples and cluttered instrumentation. Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine assists in the most unlikely of collaborations but it works despite having to listen to it at least 15 times to find the tune. In fact it might be more at home on a Charles Mingus album if it weren’t for the shredding guitars!
Social vignettes and kitchen sink drama were The Jam’s lyrical forte and Weller revisits this on ‘Trees’ an ever changing mini operatic piece that unexpectedly bursts into a rock and roll tune dismissing from whence it came before ambling away into a mournful piano number. For all the attempted frontier stretching there is still Weller by numbers to be found and ‘Moonshine’ is a typical if not unlikeable Weller tune.
‘No Tears Left to Cry’ and ‘Find the Torch, Burn the Plans’ are two of the strongest compositions, the former providing a reminder of how soulful the mans voice can be. It’s fresh pure soul pop and will please the Style Council internationalists among Weller’s fanbase. The approach taken to the album has re-invigorated Weller and those around him. The gruff edge has been taken off and the luddite of old has embraced and absorbed much more. Not writing the tunes in advance has actually made this album more cohesive.
While Weller is not exactly completely stretching the boundaries of musical innovation he is shunning the tried and tested methods of song structure and playing with different song writing concepts. With nothing more than a couplet or a title he wandered into the studio and produced music as vital and energetic as anything else out there. Young bands take note.