From Drowned In Sound
By: Aaron Lavery
With a 22-track experimental opus and a Mercury-nominated whipcracker proceeding this record, you could forgive Paul Weller if he fancied playing it a little bit safe with his latest LP – maybe roping in some guest stars and recreating the vibe of Stanley Road or Wild Wood. Credit to the man with one of the crappest nicknames in music then, because with Sonik Kicks The Modfather has completed a hat-trick of records that genuinely challenge his status quo.
With any Weller record, the sense of energy and enthusiasm that you get on first listen is usually a good indicator of the standards to be found within. Even on his more traditional records, you can see if his heart is in it or not, and proceed or not from that point. One listen to ‘Green’, Sonik Kicks’ opener, tells you that it’s going to be worth sticking about.
Shooting out of the speakers like an impatient cousin to Wilco’s ‘Art of Almost’, ‘Green’ is a bundle of energy that fizzes around Weller’s steady stream of beat poetry, all ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ drums and guitar squalls bursting out unexpectedly. It’s the first part in an opening collection of tracks that defy Weller’s reputation as a curmudgeonly keeper of the classic rock keys.
‘The Attic’, a sharp blast of guitar pop energy built on a hyperactive drum beat and surging strings, is chased around the corner by ‘Kling I Klang’, a track that kidnaps Ray Davies and plonks him down in the midst of a propulsive motorik rhythm. There’s probably some story about the lives of ordinary Lahndan folk going on somewhere, but it’s too frantic to stop and pay any attention.
It’s a pretty fiery, experimental trio to start any album with, albeit in a Noel and the Chemicals way rather than Metal Machine Music (thank God). Following it is a true indicator of how Weller has not just paid lip service to the idea of pushing himself. Strings bubble and disintegrate for a two-minute respite, before lush Nick Drake-esque strings signal the arrival of ‘By The Waters’. A beautiful, languid track, it’s a real change in direction for the LP – but not the first.
‘Study In Blue’, a beautiful duet with Weller’s wife Hannah that initially harks back to his Style Council days with a dub bass throbbing underneath, is perhaps the centerpiece to Sonik Kicks. Established artists can often raise an eyebrow or two by paying lip service to a couple of new genres, and if you only heard ‘That Dangerous Age’ from this LP, a catchy number let down by lyrics that sound like a dressing down from your dad, you might put Weller in that category. When ‘Study In Blue’ pushes itself into an extended dub workout before being followed by the XTRMNTR-esque ‘Dragonfly’ and the anthemic ‘When Your Garden’s Overgrown’, you know Weller has gone the whole hog.
It might seem lazy to suggest that Sonik Kicks combines the urgency of Wake Up The Nation with the boundary pushing of 22 Dreams, but it’s such an apt comparison that it’s difficult to ignore. Weller seems enthusiastic, upbeat and genuinely inventive across the whole LP, with only a couple of minor missteps throughout. Noel Gallagher has been bigging up his collaboration with the Amorphous Androgynous for a while now, suggesting that it’s going to be pushing the boat out. Hate to tell you our kid, but Weller’s got there and done it before you.
From The Guardian
By: Dave Simpson
Coinciding with musical and personal upheaval – and a new partner who finally got Paul Weller (pictured, right) into David Bowie – Sonik Kicks is the third in a triumvarite of experimental albums that seems to be the Woking mod’s answer to the Thin White Duke’s Berlin trilogy. Like 2008’s 22 Dreams and 2010’s Wake Up the Nation, Weller’s 11th solo effort rampages from station to station: motorik Krautrock bleeds into to wah-wah freakouts to strings-drenched soul to pastoral psychedelia and even heavy dub, sometimes simultaneously.
It’s a dizzying but never baffling musical odyssey, anchored at crucial moments by more conventional songs – the imaginary Bowie-Blur collaboration That Dangerous Age or By the Waters, a soul ballad reminiscent of the Style Council and his early solo work. With the likes of the lovely Be Happy Children rooted in domestic bliss, fans of the more politicised Weller may miss the state-of-the-nation grumbling that inspired the Jam and Wake Up the Nation. However, you have to marvel that a 53-year-old man can still make music so brimming with adventure.
From Daily Mail
By: Adrian Thrills
A chart-topper with The Jam in the punk era, Paul Weller spent the Eighties playing smooth jazz-pop with The Style Council before launching a solo career 20 years ago. So if anyone has a right to milk the nostalgia market, it’s him.
But The Modfather, 53, re-draws the map again on Sonik Kicks. His 11th solo album is an edgy, yet vibrant, affair full of jazz, folk, psychedelic rock and reggae, featuring backwards guitars, old-school synths and special effects galore.
Out on Monday, it isn’t just experimentation for the sake of it, either – there are great tunes here, too.
The past few years have been eventful for Weller, and his new songs pack a powerful emotional punch. In 2009, his father died after a long illness. On a happier note, this year Paul and wife Hannah Andrews, 25, had twins: Bowie and John Paul.
The indignant tone of his current single That Dangerous Age – built around a riff similar to All Day And All Of The Night by The Kinks – mocks those who claimed photos of Paul and Hannah the worse for wear in Prague in 2008 were part of a mid-life crisis. He says: ‘It’s about how society views people of a certain age.’
Weller, now teetotal, faces his demons again on the wonderful Paperchase, which reflects on excesses, though he admits some of it was inspired by the death of Amy Winehouse.
On a gentler note, Study In Blue, with Hannah on backing vocals, is a jazzy throwback to The Style Council. Elsewhere, we get German electronics in Kling I Klang and Around The Lake, Spanish flamenco on Drifters and psychedelic rock on Dragonfly – with Blur guitarist Graham Coxon on a Hammond organ. Other familiar sidekicks in unfamiliar guises include guitarist Steve Cradock on drums – and Noel Gallagher on bass. Despite a fondness for abstract sounds, Weller’s greatest strength is still his songwriting.
Among the most memorable are The Attic, which revisits the kitsch end of pre-Beatles pop, and When Your Garden’s Overgrown – which constructs an alternative life for Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett. It’s a great track and – like Paperchase – a little like Blur.
The final track, Be Happy Children, is even stronger. A tribute to his father, it features two of Weller’s seven children – daughter Leah and seven-year-old son Mac – on vocals.
After all that experimentation, he closes with a soulful tear-jerker. It’s hard to think of anyone who mixes the ground-breaking and the sentimental with such aplomb. But there is no one in pop quite like Weller.
From Irish Times
By: Tony Clayton-Lea
There is a lot to admire Paul Weller for: his class work with The Jam, his splitting of said band at the height of their popularity, and the way in which he has handled his post-Jam/Style Council solo career. Less admirable (and it’s hardly something we can blame him for) is the fawning lionisation of his past 15 years as a recording artist.
Sonik Kicks comes off, initially, as a companion piece to previous, far superior albums Wake Up the Nation and 22 Dreams, but unfortunately ends up a drab, disappointing selection of disparate tracks that pinball one from the other without cohesion. When Weller isn’t referencing Krautrock in Green, for instance, he’s trying on Damon Albarn’s hat for size in The Dangerous Age. In other words, it aims to be all things to all people, but far too often falls miserably short of the target.
From The Independent
By: Andy Gill
While not as immediately career-defining as Wake Up the Nation, there’s no denying that with Sonik Kicks, Paul Weller is continuing the courageous, exploratory course established on 2008’s 22 Dreams, experimenting with the impish abandon of one who long since ceased letting others’ opinions determine his course.
The solarised, psychedelic colours of the sleeve serve due notice of what to expect: these are sonic kicks, first and foremost, and barely a track passes by without an acid-fried aural equivalent of a mushroomed sunset, with swathes of backwards guitars, whining synths and sundry effects. It’s quite dizzying: at times one yearns for the secure foothold of a simpler, more direct rocker, but the few occasions when they turn up, like the slick, sardonic “That Dangerous Age” and the urgent, itchily expectant “The Attic”, they’re here and gone in the blink of an eye, as if Weller had swiftly grown bored with them and wanted to push his personal envelope again in some new direction.
To give him credit, he doesn’t try and ease the listener in: the opener “Green” is as weird as it gets, with tendrils of wah-wah guitar trailing its juddering vibrato groove, and multi-tracked spoken vocals peppering one from all corners of the soundstage about the meaning of green, while the bizarre, disjunctive mix features unexpected channel-shifts and drop-outs, before the track dissolves in a drizzle of electronic bleeps and wisps of guitar. Later on, “Around the Lake” is a psych-rock swagger with siren synth and FX circling its central guitar riff; “Sleep of the Serene”, a liquid instrumental with synths, strings and backward guitars in otherworldly alliance; and “Dragonfly”, a shifting, echoey blend of piano and FX riding a steady drum pulse, as Weller offers a tribute to a lady friend that doesn’t end up as admiring as it seems: “She’s in a world with no people/All the scope without the hope or the reason”.
In between these trippy sonic excursions, he gets his kicks in some unusual areas. “Study in Blue” is the longest piece here, a languorous jazz-soul-reggae groove which, like the best Jamaican singles, comes with its own second-half melodica dub. And “Kling I Klang” is a terse, uptempo guitar polka that finds Weller dismissive of misplaced regret and guilt: “There’s only one moment, that is now/I can’t undo what I don’t know how”. And though “Drifters” may be essentially yet another psych-rocker awash in swirling FX, there’s a Doors-like undertow and a slight Spanish flavour to it that lend it the feel of a vacationeer’s bad-trip epiphany.
It’s a hazy but deeply satisfying journey that reaches an uplifting, positive conclusion in the shimmering strings of “Be Happy Children”, where Weller seems to draw on the spirit of Curtis Mayfield for an anthemic refrain advising the troubled to “think upon, look along, be happy children”. It’s about as close as the album gets to the judgmental proclamations that used to be the Modfather’s stock-in-trade – but he was so much older then, he’s younger than that now.
From Music OMH
By: Colm McAuliffe
The trajectory of Paul Weller’s 35-year career has seem him relentlessly spin through almost every conceivable trope of 20th century popular music, from New Wave, to easy listening through acid house and Britpop. Does this suggest a trailblazing musical crusader, effortlessly wearing his myriad influences on his sleeve, constantly seeking out new ways to enthral and enrapture his loyal audience? Or, does it just mean the perma-tanned Weller is the Swiss Toni of British rock, keen to jump on the latest bandwagon and desperately eager to remain relevant and vital to the ‘kids’?
Sonik Kicks is the former The Jam man’s 11th album and comes on a wave of critical resurgence amid overhauls and upheavals of both his musical and personal lives. Having ploughed his workmanlike Dadrock furrow into the ground by the time of 2005’s As Is Now, the release of 2008’s 22 Dreams and 2010’s Wake Up The Nation saw Weller festooned with garlands, praising his new-found audacity as he gleefully collaborated with the likes of ex-bandmate Bruce Foxton, Kevin Shields and the Woking Gay Community Choir.
But the most immediate aspect of Sonik Kicks is not wilful experimentation or offbeat excursions; instead, what is obvious is that Paul Weller has been listening to Neu!. Quite a lot, it seems. In fact, the opening track Green is squealing with the sound of the motorik metronome, while buzzsaw guitars and crazy panning almost entirely drown out the half-spoken vocals. Kling I Klang – an unintended tribute to Kraftwerk’s recording studio after a journalist misheard the original title – is almost vaudevillian in its swinging groove, bringing to mind a more streamlined Tiger Lillies, while lead single That Dangerous Age, a self-effacing nod to the age gap between the modfather and his missus, is a throwaway chant-along bolstered by yet more buzzing synths, handclaps and clipped rhythms, a lean funk workout thwarted at birth.
However, Sonik Kicks isn’t entirely haunted by the spectre of German modernities. In fact, it’s the gentler, more languid tracks which see Weller finding his true range. Always a man with an eye for a keen collaborator, the addition of High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan as string arranger brings a stately sheen to the wonderful Study In Blue, where not only the title could have come from the early (hey)days of The Style Council. A duet with wife Hannah, Study In Blue might be the most elegant proffering from Weller in years, the dreamy dub coda exploding in a gale of space rock wizardry.
Equally affecting is Dragonfly, with a lyric seemingly constructed from a poem written by daughter Jessie, and an insistent bass line punctuated by shards of kiss-the-sky guitars and an understated vocal delivery. And therein lies the key to Sonik Kicks – the album succeeds when Weller takes a step back from communicating his current listening tastes to us and lets his natural craftsmanship take centre stage. There’s nothing as crazily abstract as 22 Dreams’ 111 on here; the instrumental Twilight is 20 seconds of bleeps and percussion and Sleep Of The Serene is a string-laden fragment – and that’s about as obscure as things get.
The thing with Weller is that he always has a trump card – reforming The Jam. So perhaps we should be glad that he has yet to succumb to that particular facet of retro-culture. But throughout Sonik Kicks, it somehow feels as if the Krautrock vibe is a needless intrusion, an unnecessary welding and meshing of styles. Because when Weller drops the appendages, he is still an artist of depth and soul. The Style Council renaissance begins here.
From The State
By: Daniel Carroll
In the run-up to releasing this, his 11th solo album, 53 year old Paul Weller said “I want to be relevant now, in 2012”. Coming from any other middle-aged musician this statement would be seem delusional. However, as well you know, this isn’t any other musician. Through hugely popular songs like ‘That’s Entertainment’, ‘Going Underground’ and ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’, Weller’s made the kind of cutting social commentary that keeps it relevance 30 years later. Furthermore, on the back of two critically lauded LPs (the sprawling 22 Dreams and Mercury Prize nominee Wake Up The Nation), new album Sonik Kicks comes poised for glory.
The only thing is it’s not very good. In fact, it’s fair to say, Sonik Kicks is patchy at best. Opening track ‘Green’ establishes the order of business. Three minutes of cod-psychedelics with nothing to say. Even as an intro, it smacks of laziness – substituting studio-trickery where a song should be. Sadly, the same flaw underpins much of this album. From the instrumental interlude ‘Sleep Of The Serene’, to the six-minute dub reggae of ‘Study In Blue’, Sonik Kicks sees Weller concerned mainly with window-dressing.
In his pursuit of ‘forward-thinking mod(ern) production’, the Woking soul brother smothers us with bells and whistles. On the occasion things get a little stripped back, the results are really rather good. The acoustic led ‘By The Waters’, sounds unhindered and effortless. His vocal pushed to the fore, Weller soars amongst sparse strings. Penultimate track ‘Paper Chase’ also benefits from a less is more approach, while lead single ‘Dangerous Age’ sees some coalescence of song and production.
In the end though, Weller goes out with a whimper. For a man who wants relevance in 2012, the saccharine platitudes of closing track ‘Be Happy Children’ sound farcical. In another era, Weller might have seen recession and riots and urged “shout to the top”. On Sonik Kicks however, showing his age and priorities, the Modfather croons a lullaby with his daughter.
From The Herald Scotland
By: Barry Didcock
“Electronic”, “experimental” and “tough-sounding” is how Paul Weller, right, has described his 11th solo studio album, and it’s hard to argue with most of that – or with the notion that Sonik Kicks continues the stylistic renaissance which began with 2008’s 22 Dreams and continued with the Mercury Award-nominated Wake Up The Nation. There are echoes here of everything from late-period Jam to mid-period Style Council. In the Augustus Pablo-style melodica dub of Study In Blue there’s even a flavour of the 11-minute Kosmos, from his under-appreciated first solo album. It means that his other claim for Sonik Kicks – that it is “groundbreaking, at least for me” – seems a little self-deprecating: he’s always pushed at the limits of his own musical experience. Apart from on Sleep, a 20-second sonic squall, what electronica there is is used as punctuation or fill-in. If there’s a prevailing style, it’s guitar-driven psychedelia, stomping drums and – on opener Green – the sort of trippy production trickery we’re more used to finding on acid-drenched 1960s wig-outs.
From The Independent
By: Simon Price
Weller’s renaissance is as heartening as it is unexpected. After spending the 10 years either side of the millennium in a creative slump, no-one foresaw the singer coming up with albums as inventive as 22 Dreams, Wake Up the Nation and now this, which sees him discovering the joys of Krautrock, with opener “Green” following a linear groove reminiscent of Stereolab and three other songs following a distinctly Kraut-y pattern.
Ironically, given his Nineties association with Oasis, at least two tracks are reminiscent of Blur. There’s a bit of Augustus Pablo-style reggae, a druggy psychedelic swirl called “Drifters”, and a few more conventional moments. Now he’s rediscovered his creative spark, it’s a shame he hasn’t rekindled his political radicalism. Maybe next time. For now, this amounts to his most enjoyable LP since Our Favourite Shop.
By: Barry Nicolson
That old footballing maxim about the fleeting nature of form and the permanence of class is cold comfort to musicians ailing from the creaking bones and waning powers of middle age. For Paul Weller, the quips about his new single almost write themselves: ‘That Dangerous Age’… what, 53? When annual visits to the colonoscopist become mandatory and your own mortality is confronted every time you rev the engine of a gaudy new sports car? Knife-edge stuff, truly.
Yet if the song itself is testament to anything, it’s that His Modjesty is both in on the joke and remaining above it. A whip-smart riposte to tabloid accusations of a mid-life crisis (Weller’s new wife Hannah is – avert thine eyes, children! – 27 years his junior), ‘That Dangerous Age’ plays with perceptions of its author as a listless, moneyed skirt-chaser before rendering them utterly moot by being – and we’re not sure why we’re so surprised by this – very good indeed: two-and-a-half virile minutes of shoo-oop-ing plastic soul that would provoke jealousy in Bowie himself. It’s an early indication that the Indian summer ushered in by 2008’s ‘22 Dreams’ and the Mercury-nominated ‘Wake Up The Nation’ isn’t over just yet.
Those looking to find fault with ‘Sonik Kicks’ will doubtless mention Weller’s recent appraisal of it as “groundbreaking”, while ignoring the caveat of, “Well, for me it is…” that followed. In truth, he’s not quite so far outside his comfort zone as you might think: the album was made at his studio in Surrey, with the usual names (Steve Cradock, Noel Gallagher, Graham Coxon), plus his wife and kids on guesting duties. Producer and co-writer Simon Dine, widely credited with Weller’s current purple patch, returns again – although, as the two are now locked in a financial dispute, it’s likely for the last time. The best song here, the sumptuous, string-laden English pastoral of ‘By The Waters’, is a close cousin of ‘Wild Wood’, while ‘Be Happy Children’ – a mid-paced meditation on fatherhood that tests the limits of the listener’s sentimentality – is so dadrock-by-definition you briefly wonder if he’s gone all meta on us.
What is surprising, though, is Weller, that most non-negotiably English of musical icons, dabbling in krautrock, as he does on three tracks here. ‘Green’ is a Neu!-ish mish-mash of insistent synths and distended guitars, with Weller delivering an oblique spoken-word lyric that opens the album on a studiedly enigmatic note. Even taking that foretaste into account, however, ‘Kling I Klang’’s spiky electric oompah can’t help but come jackbooting out of left-field, spitting venom about the Afghan war while its knees busily piston up to its chin.
Oh, and did someone say jazz-reggae? No? Well, that’s understandable. But despite everything ‘Study In Blue’ has going against it (it’s a duet with his wife, features liberal use of melodica, and is – ahem – seven minutes of jazz-fucking-reggae), on record it’s disarmingly lovely. ‘When Your Garden’s Overgrown’, a tribute to Syd Barrett which wisely doesn’t bother trying to sound like its subject, is instead infused with the shameless love of strummed melody that characterised pre-Africa Damon Albarn.
At this stage in the game, Weller is perfectly aware of what his audience wants, but he’s also secure in the knowledge that they’re not going to simply desert at the first sign of divergence. As such, he’s now less beholden to expectation than he has been at any time since he disbanded The Jam. How much responsibility for this late-period renaissance lies with the now-estranged Dine? That’s a question for another album. ‘Sonik Kicks’ is the sound of Paul Weller growing old the only way he could – not particularly gracefully, but with no small amount of style.
From Pop Matters
By: Maria Schurr
There seems to be but a few options for rock’s elder statesmen as they enter their 50s and beyond: either go raw and rude; stick to what you know; or go bananas and do something which, if successful, will put the young’uns in their place. Paul Weller went with the last option on new release Sonik Kicks and has produced a stunner. While traces of Modness are fairly discernible on solo release #11, Sonik Kicks also possesses a healthy psychedelic influence, and at other times sees the sharpest of sharp-suited silver foxes dabble in motorik beats and synthesizers.
Weller has rarely been known to rest on his creative laurels throughout his varied career. The most recent evidence of this is 2010’s Wake Up the Nation which, among other surprises, featured two collaborations with Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. Before that, 2008’s 22 Dreams saw Weller delve into such unexpected genres as jazz and tango. While genres he explores on Sonik Kicks are a little more rock-friendly, an air of surprise still lingers on the periphery of the songs. Here things begin with the motorik beat of “Green”, at once a game-changer and a revision of past signatures; an inherent Modishness lurks just below the Kraut indebtedness and psychedelic guitar squalls. Most importantly, “Green” is spirited, an energetic and intriguing starter. Its follow up, “The Attic”, is perhaps the album’s brightest pop moment. The song retains the psychedelic guitar flourishes of its predecessor, fashioning them into ebullient pop hooks in such a way that, despite including lines like, “All day long I’m lonely / Waiting by my phone…Baby come home” the song sounds nothing short of invigorating.
After the rollicking “King I Klang”, the album takes a detour into the vaguely pretentious (the lush-stringed soundscape “Sleep of the Serene”) and downtempo (the lovely “By the Waters”). In no time Sonik Kicks perks up again with “That Dangerous Age”, the album’s first single and most overtly Mod cut. Thanks to the “shoo-oop” backing vocals, Weller can now add being the founder of electro doo-wop to the list of his many achievements.
The dub-heavy “Study in Blue” marks the album’s halfway point. A duet between Weller and current wife Hannah, it’s akin to Weller’s past Style Council efforts while resisting that project’s pop constraints. Given its strong first half, Sonik Kicks could easily drop off from this point and still be an impressive release, but what remains effortlessly matches what came before in energy and substance. “Dragonfly” is a total psych trip that features Blur’s Graham Coxon on guitar and Hammond organ. “Garden Overgrown” is another ‘60s-psych tribute, but substitutes Noel Gallagher for Coxon and throws in a nice Syd Barrett reference as well. The album closes on a dangerous note with “Be Happy Children”, a soul ballad that balances the fine line between heartfelt and hokey. A closing whisper from one of Weller’s younger offspring just about tips the balance, but thankfully the song is saved by another Weller descendant, daughter Leah, whose mother is Weller’s Style Council companion Dee C Lee. Leah has a sturdy vocal prowess to both match her mother’s and serves as a nice compliment to Weller’s rich delivery.
In recent press for Sonik Kicks Weller has expressed utmost confidence in the release, going so far as to say, of all his many releases—from his work in the Jam on through the Style Council’s Our Favorite Shop and highly regarded solo release Stanley Road—this is the album he would award “Desert Island Disc” status to. Given Wake Up the Nation‘s Mercury Music Prize nomination and Sonik Kick‘s spiritedness, it’s apparent that Weller is turning a new leaf in his career and that other, equally strong, releases in the coming decade are not far behind. We are only three months into 2012, so whether Sonik Kicks will be remembered when year-end accolades roll around is even up for conjecture. For now, however, Weller has made an extremely worthy case for remaining the master of his craft.