As a document of the modern Paul Weller, this couldn’t be more accurate.
James McMahon – 2010-12-09
Thirty-two years on from putting together his first band, critical consensus of Paul Weller’s music continues to change as often as the seasons. An often misunderstood yet always uncompromising fixture of British rock, his last three studio albums have been spoken of with the sort of respect he last enjoyed with 1995’s Stanley Road.
The current thinking towards Weller is fond; only the unenlightened give kudos to the growly, cabbie-beloved pub-rocker myth his naysayers would tag him as. 2005’s As Is Now started the renaissance. The pastoral, psychedelic 22 Dreams was one of the strangest releases of 2008, while April’s Wake Up the Nation, saw him reunited on record with The Jam’s Bruce Foxton for the first time since 1982. Not that it suggested a man looking back.
That record, more than any other, showcased a sound that was laced with timeless punk fury, with adventurous Kevin Shields-assisted sound collage 7 & 3 Is the Strikers Name more visceral than the output of many his junior. His rant on the title-track of “get your face off the Facebook and turn off your phone” may have fleetingly made him sound all of his 52 years, but the energy of the piece was youthful, angry and alarming.
This live release, packaged with Julien Temple-directed documentary Find the Torch, Burn the Plans, splits its running time between a performance at the Royal Albert Hall and at the BBC Theatre from earlier this year. A divide runs down the middle of the material, too; it’s almost contrary that the Woking man has chosen to cap an experimental flourish with a live release that spends much of its running time pairing his more laboured compositions (Wild Wood, et al) with songs from the last three albums. But as a document of the modern Paul Weller, it couldn’t be more accurate.
Because what’s most notable about the release, more than the special guests (Richard Hawley, Lauren Prichard, Kelly Jones on a pair of Jam hits), is how comfortable the songwriter appears marrying his past and present. The challenging moments of his recent records rarely jar with the familiar Beat-indebted rock of yore, and what comes transpires sounds like a man enjoying, yet sporadically prodding his most recent reappraisal.
Who knows what’s next for a man with constant form for surprise, or how critical opinion will play out from here. But right here, right now, Paul Weller sounds like a man confidently assured of what it means to be Paul Weller right now.