A gum-chewing Paul Weller cruising along a Californian coast road in an open top muscle car. Nice publicity material – however, not only is that a classic image to bring a smile to the face but it’s also the perfect personification of his 15th solo studio album, ‘On Sunset.’ It reflects the groove, warm sunshine melody, impeccable production and soulful songcraft that befits someone with legendary status as the ‘Modfather.’
Weller is thus far up to four Number One albums, nineteen Top Tens and a mere two hundred and four weeks in the Top 40. Expect that to be generously extended by this work: a pièce de résistance to crown a persistent career of creative mastery; this album proves itself a tour de force of the kind of skill only a lifetime of craft can facilitate. An example of this skill is how he manages to make use of such a wide and plentiful cast of musicians and instruments (at least a dozen on each track) without it ever feeling too busy or overcrowded. There is a chill, laid back ambience that verbalizes his confidence, vast ability and enormous experience that says, ‘I don’t need to rush, I have nothing to prove, this all just comes so naturally that I can experiment without losing any quality.’ A far cry from the very different genius and approach of the shouty, angry early work of The Jam and The Style Council; this is artisan craft of maturity and poise and gracefulness.
The opening track ‘Mirrorball’ is a full eight minutes of epic sonic adventure akin to being invited to the home of an elder statesman: We’re swept up through the threshold with spacey synth pop, before being greeted by the embrace of a funk beat and crispy guitar before dining at the long table of a mid-track aural breakdown complimented with vintage wine of extended psychedelia before stepping back out into the warm street with running sub bass lines and chorus embracing us and kissing us goodnight.
If track one has hints of Bowie, track two, ‘Baptiste’ has tinges of Van Morrison with choppy piano melody, reinforced with Hammond organ. However, track three, ‘Old Father Tyme’ is where we really get going. An intro to whet the appetite is rewarded with a groovy drop that spreads a smile every time I hear it without fail. So cool. Wah wah, claps, hi hat and chorus pedal reverb – makes me want to shout, “yes Paul!” He’s got it right with this one. ‘Village’ is a more sweeping sweet tune but will keep your foot tapping and heart soaring along with the synth and bittersweet sentiment, “I don’t need all the things you got, I just want to be who I want.” ‘More’ is such an infectious beat, stripped back and cool cat funky – then French female vocals take you by surprise. It could be a bit too obscure but they feature just enough as a ‘less-is-more’ contribution that it just maintains the mystique and experimental avant garde that Weller professes to be more and more interested in these days. Genius stuff again. We are then treated to the title track, ‘On Sunset.’ This is more of a ‘60’s surf classic summer soul vibe, with references to palm trees and warm breezes. Extremely evocative and emotive, and… is that fill …a recorder?! ‘Equanimity’ has yet again another new feel with twinge of his ska of old to get your thumbs in your braces and knees pointing outwards, and real storytelling lyrics. And a fiddle solo (courtesy of Jim Lea from Slade). ‘Walkin’ for me was ever so slightly reminiscent of Elton John to start with,
somehow manages to get away with another solo – saxophone this time. Don’t get comfortable though – ‘Earth Beat’ forgets we were bopping along cheesily and slaps us with beeps and electronic almost Jean Michel Jarre-esque paraphernalia that tells us Weller is still looking forward and thinking outside the box.
All in all this is an album to rank up there among his best. Which is no mean feat, and quite something for a career now in its sixth decade. With all the varied influences, head nods and plethora of instruments it has massive scope and experimental ambition, but you can’t argue that as a body of work it doesn’t work: it really is a monumental collective construction soaring high over the current popscape and one which will not only become a significant shrine of pilgrimage for lifelong fans but also remain visible for more casual music lovers for miles, and possibly generations, around.
On Sunset is out now on Polydor Records.
|MON||Oct 27||DUBLIN OLYMPIA|
|SUN||Oct-25||BELFAST ULSTER HALL|
|MON||Nov-02||HULL BONUS ARENA|
|THU||Nov-05||LEICESTER DE MONTFORT HALL|
|FRI||Nov-06||LEICESTER DE MONTFORT HALL|
|SAT||Nov-07||BLACKBURN KING GEORGE’S HALL|
|MON||Nov-09||CARLISLE SANDS CENTRE|
|THU||Nov-12||DUNDEE CAIRD HALL|
|FRI||Nov-13||NEWCASTLE CITY HALL|
|SAT||Nov-14||NEWCASTLE CITY HALL|
|MON||Nov-16||EDINBURGH USHER HALL|
|TUES||Nov-17||BRADFORD ST GEORGE’S HALL|
|THU||Nov-19||LONDON BRIXTON ACADEMY|
|FRI||Nov-20||O2 KENTISH TOWN FORUM|