There are, let’s be honest, a few great English artists who enhance their living legend status by not actually doing very much. They deposited their great work in the memory bank decades ago and now simply reap the accumulated interest from the old faithful each passing year. Good for them. But Paul Weller’s not like that. He never stops dropping landmark recordings, nor striking out for new turf.
“What would I do if I stopped?” he asks rhetorically with a shrug, as if it’s the silliest thing he’s ever heard. “And why would I stop if making music is what I always wanted to do?”
No, Paul Weller does not rest on his enormous laurels. He’s not content just to soak up plaudits for the influence he continues to assert after four decades of constant, questing musical endeavour. His life’s mission to keep producing new music is never obscured by the mountainous critical accolades he’s racked up after six era-defining albums with The Jam during that golden era for British music just after punk until they split in 1982 (thus ending the golden era). Nor does he rack up on the mantelpiece the critical acclaim he still receives for the five albums he made subsequently with the diametrically opposed (but still undeniably Weller-like) soul-jazz-funk-anything-but-rock Style Council, and eleven albums as a multi-award-winning solo artist since 1990. Paul Weller could score a different open-goal on the nostalgia circuit every year for the next two decades by playing a different one of his classic albums again. Think how much his huge public — one of music’s most partisan and loyal — would love him to now tour The Jam’s “Sound Affects,” or The Style Council’s “Our Favourite Shop,” or his landmark album from the 90s Britpop era, “Stanley Road?” He could write his own fee.
But for Paul Weller, it would be like writing a retirement plan and that’s the very worst thing he can think of. Instead he furthers his reputation as one of Britain’s very greatest living musicians by doing what he’s always done: heading back into the studio and making a new album. It’s always something that surprises sonically, that takes a fork in the road from his last work, but it’s also something that always, *always* has the tunes to make the journey you’re taking with him worth it. Nobody writes songs as reliably and regularly brilliant as Paul Weller. Nobody. That’s a fact and has been since 1976.
Last year, 2014, he headed back into his regular recording haunt, Black Barn Studio in the Surrey countryside, to work on “Saturns Pattern,” his follow-up to 2012’s tour-de-force of cut-up pop-punk-kraut and abstract escapades “Sonik Kicks.” Working alongside his regular sound-desk collaborator Jan “Stan” Kybert (Oasis, Bjork, Massive Attack, etc.) in the producer’s chair for the first time, and with trusty engineer Charles Rees close at hand, he had a very different album in mind. He wanted something with a bit of swing and space in it. And so work on “Saturns Pattern” began.
“It’s not necessarily a dance album, but I wanted something with rhythmic drive. The soul side was a conscious decision. It has a lot of movement in the record, there’s something physical,” he says. “But it has the tunes to match. Not that I ever plan it but I always react a bit to what I’ve done last. I don’t want to repeat myself. It’s pointless.”
Working alongside Weller and Kybert was Weller’s touring drummer Ben Gordelier — of The Moons — who played on just about all the songs. Weller handled a lot of the other instruments himself, but welcomed in guests for stints adding shade and colour to his picture throughout, including touring band member Andy Crofts (also of The Moons) who pops up all over the place, old guitar foil Steve Cradock, as well as even older guitar foil Steve Brookes with whom Weller went to school and who first started The Jam with him. Other guests included guitarist Josh McClorey from Irish R&B scamps, The Strypes.
What they created was an album that will make the summer days seem even longer, but will also heat up the coldest winter’s night. It’s an album aglow with warmth and passion. It’s an album of deep English soul and heart, one that makes you want to fling open the doors and commune with your fellow man and neighbour. It’ll make you feel like dancing when you’re lying down and make you ponder deeply even when you’re grooving to it, lost in melody and rhythm. It’s deep. It’s heavy. It’s soulful. It’s got some very catchy tunes.
As is typical with a Paul Weller album, you’d struggle to define it stylistically. There a soulful feel that encompasses it all, especially on songs like the bustling, piano-fed “Going My Way,” or the wonderful Southern-fried organ precision of “Pick It Up.” But no soul album could contain the skyscraping blues explosion of “White Sky” or the slide-guitar frenzy of “In The Car…,” which Weller describes as his “M25 Blues.” There’s a psychedelic, jazzy, Age Of Aquarius feel to songs like “Phoenix,” too, as well as the magnificently expansive summer breeze that is the closing “These City Streets.” It’s a soulful kaleidoscope of an album that feels both out-of-step and ahead of its time.
Paul Weller is not one of life’s natural navel-gazers. But even he, in a quiet moment, might reflect that a sonic chapter was opened with 2008’s eclectic double album “22 Dreams” and it forged a narrative musical arc that continued through 2010’s “Wake Up The Nation” and 2012’s “Sonik Kicks.” “Saturns Pattern” released on Paul’s new labels; Parlophone in the U.K., and Warner Bros. Records in U.S., feels carved from a different mould and travels to fresh locations. It sounds suspiciously like a brand new chapter. Paul Weller, 56, has pulled the rug out from us all once again.