In one fell swoop he's thrown off his dour image, ushering in a host of new fans by...
Chris Jones 2008-05-30
For many artists clocking up a half century would be time to stop and take stock. Maybe do the box set thing and release a 'tribute' album of all your own faves. But hold on... Paul Weller's done all that. Which means that with 22 Dreams he's free to go wherever he will. And he does just that. Joined by producer/arranger Simon Dine as well as regular cohort guitarist, Steve Cradock, the two keywords to this album must be 'variety' and (gasp) 'fun'. Yes, Woking's finest son seems to have loosened up and just let the tape roll. The result is a bucolic joyride through his strengths and some very new territory indeed.
Despite reports to the contrary, old school fans will find the usual traits in place among the cosmic jazz and Tom Waits piano balladeering: The Small Faces, Traffic, Curtis Mayfield and John Martyn still figure large in the album's landscape. The difference is that here it's less a slavish, didactic desire to fight for rock of yore; it's just where he's at (man). And by opening up the studio to his friends he's also allowed the old genres to be transmuted. Have You Made Up Your Mind may be all Superfly on the surface, but Simon Dine's strings add a fascinating sheen of 60s kitsch. And just listen to John McCusker’s fiddle on opener, Light Nights. The truth is: despite the clothes horse trappings, Weller has matured into a fine FOLK singer.
Some may find the 'experimental' moments such as the Mellotron wiggle of 111 (supposedly influenced by Keith Rowe and AMM) or the closing meander of Night Lights hard to take seriously. Yet while Song To Alice (a tribute to Alice Coltrane, featuring Robert Wyatt on cornet) may cause true jazzers to snigger, it still touches new frontiers for the artist. And how many artists can you say form a link between the Canterbury avant-garde and the Britpop of Noel Gallagher (here on Echoes Round The Sun)? This has to be a good thing.
Naturally, some moments (as on all great double albums) just don't work. The cod-depth of the spoken-word track, God, is never going to lodge itself in the hearts of even the most dedicated fans and Where'er Ye Go comes close to sounding like a Bruce Springsteen demo. Also the title track may make any remaining members of the Electric Prunes reach for their lawyer’s phone number. But taken as a whole (as he insists it should be) it becomes a multicolour ride through some of the most charming British rock/folk/soul you'll hear in ages. In one fell swoop he's thrown off his dour image, ushering in a host of new fans by delivering the best solo album of his career. Not bad for a 50-year-old institution.