Review Round-Up: Paul Weller
Long-time Hurst readers might remember that I rather liked 22 Dreams, the terrific, kaleidoscopic album that Modfather/former Jam and Style Council ringleader Paul Weller released in 2009. I liked it enough to feel very comfortable calling it his best solo album yet, enough that it was a serious contender for my Best of 2008 list, and certainly enough that I became eager to find out how he would try to follow it.
What I wasn’t prepared for was for Weller to follow that top-notch album with one that’s even more dizzying and impressive, but that’s exactly what he’s done with Wake Up the Nation. The album comes out stateside in June, and I’ll be reviewing it then. For now, the album is already released in the UK, and a quick survey of the British rock rags shows just how significant and provocative this album is. Q, for example, in a five-star rave, calls it his solo masterpiece, and likens it to the best latter-day Dylan albums. Andy Gill, writing for the Independent, gives it five stars as well.
But there’s more. NME says that Weller is a “godlike genius.” And then there’s this:
Take a moment to compare Paul Weller to his 1977 classmates, and you’ll find that nowadays everyone’s either dead, virtually senile or beyond caring. Sting? Plays the lute. Geldof? No chance. Mick Jones? Content with backing up Damon Albarn. Even Lydon’s decided to revive his role as the fairy godmother of panto punk for the 1,056th time.
True, there are some (MacGowan, Costello) who still apply themselves with a certain level of dedication to their initial cause. But none apart from Weller actually appear that arsed about writing songs – damn fine ones – anymore. He’s just about to turn 52, and ‘Wake Up The Nation’ is his 10th solo record. It’s a collection of ludicrously fresh-sounding, short and sharp material (the majority of tracks are under two-and a-half minutes) that confirms he’s in the midst of a seriously impressive rebirth. This period of reinvention took shape with 2008’s ‘22 Dreams’, but whereas that album coerced the listener into a woozy, acid-flecked slideshow of sprawling psychedelia, ‘Wake Up…’ pushes classic British beat, mod, funk and R&B. The songs are homely and familiar, but Weller’s delivery – he made up many of the lyrics on the spot – is gloriously imperfect; lending a remarkably youthful and frankly often drunk-sounding edge to proceedings.
“Fire and skill”, our man spat in 1977. After three decades, he’s still at the top of his game – still reinventing, still chasing melodic perfection. Only difference now is that he’s pretty much on his own; nobody else flits from style to style with as much ease and precision. Modlike and Godlike – ‘Wake Up…’ shows just how lucky we are to have Weller.
The Telegraph offers similarly breathless praise:
Where 22 Dreams was pastoral and rambling, Wake Up the Nation is off the wall yet to the point, its 16 tracks shoehorned into 40 action-packed minutes. Dine apparently pushed the singer to abandon folky whimsy, in favour of a chaotic, urban wall of sound.
So, Wake Up the Nation is anything but easy listening. Its relentless vigour is exhausting, rather like the Jam’s final blowout, 1982’s The Gift. But, within its grimy kaleidoscope, Weller strikes gold all over again with lyrical acuteness and tunes – the sweepingly beautiful No Tears to Cry, in particular – as good as any he has written. Bravo!
Simon Price says the album is Weller’s “stunning return to form,” continuing:
For the first time in too long, Paul Weller is not playing catch-up with the zeitgeist, nor trying to live up to his own canon. Waking Up the Nation is an unchained, liberated album, the sound of a young dog chasing cars rather than an old one eating its own tail.
And Dan Cairns enthuses:
The sense that you knew pretty much what you’d be getting with each new Paul Weller solo release — gruff, bluesy dad-rock workouts with bracing if rare signs of the old bark and bite — vanished with 2008’s sprawling, multigenre 22 Dreams. That double album was, it is now clear, merely a rehearsal. Wake Up the Nation began as a series of “sound collages” recorded by Weller’s co-producer, Simon Dine, which the 51-year-old then worked up into songs, the vocals and often extempore lyrics added at the 11th hour. The result is an album at once baffling, unpredictable, urgent, passionate and, in terms of the Weller canon, uncategorisable: you genuinely do not know where its 16 tracks are taking you.
More Weller coverage coming as the album’s U.S. release date draws nigh!