Wake Up the Nation
[Yep Roc; 2010]
Joshua Klein, May 10, 2010
Paul Weller has said that his most recent album, 2008’s 22 Dreams, was in many ways a response to turning 50. It was a gift to himself– creating something indulgent, sprawling, and guest-heavy. Then again, Weller has never cared what anyone else thinks about him. This is a guy who disbanded the Jam at the peak of its popularity, did the same with the Style Council, then went solo and emerged if anything even more popular than before. Heck, he even dismissed most of his band before recording 22 Dreams, preferring a start-from-scratch approach.
One familiar name who returns on Wake Up the Nation is frequent Weller producer and collaborator Simon Dine, who reportedly first delivered several of these songs to Weller in sketchy, abstract form and thus inspired the man to dive back into work. The biggest name enlisted to flesh out this rollicking and free-ranging set, however, is My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, who crops up on “7&3 Is the Strikers Names” to help further blur the edges of the wobbly psych-rock confection. Move/ELO drummer Bev Bevan shows up on a couple of tracks– the deliriously loose title track and opener “Moonshine”, which finds Weller in ramshackle, rough-around-the-edges VU territory. And then there’s the unlikely presence of former Jam cohort Bruce Foxton on bass, recording with Weller for the first time in nearly three decades. In fact, the propulsive low end runs of “Fast Car/Slow Traffic” almost seem designed to showcase Foxton and reference Weller’s old sound.
Then again, the disc is practically teaming over with Weller’s various interests and influences, past and present. “Two Fat Ladies” recalls the larger than life riffage of prime Who; Weller’s love of soul is reflected in “No Tears to Cry” (Northern soul) and “Aim High” (blue-eyed funk). Scattered throughout are everything from free jazz flourishes and psych-freakouts like “Find the Torch, Burn the Plans” to introspective Dylan ditties like “Grasp & Still Connect”, and, on “Up the Dosage”, even a bit of disco.
That the disc doesn’t fall apart is a testament to its restless efficiency. Most tracks top off at the mid-two minute mark, and even at 16 songs Wake Up the Nation totals a mere 40 minutes. That’s just about a half-hour shorter than 22 Dreams, but the disc in turn is twice the fun. Artists Weller’s age often falter trying to chase the past. Weller, on the other hand, simply brings his musical baggage along with him wherever he goes, unpacking or picking up new things as necessary. Whether anyone else follows him, well, that’s really none of his concern, but with albums like this one it’s hard not to at least sit up and take notice of Weller’s creative renewal.