Glance in rearview mirror shows Weller the way forwards
Updated: Jul 23
On Sunset is Paul Weller’s 15th solo album and finds him willing to climb his own self-imposed summits to reinvent again with a slick new body of work. A set of songs with a smattering of his former incarnations, juxtaposed against experimental sounds and new collaborations. If the jury was out on whether the Modfather could match his last elaborate LP, it wasn’t for long. On Sunset has hit No1 in the UK album charts within a week and sees him join a very exclusive club, with John Lennon and Paul McCartney, as the only artists to have a chart topping album in five straight decades.
The inimitable Weller artwork conjures up a warm Californian ‘life-is-easy’ feel which is all about a trip into yesteryear : Sunset Strip, West Hollywood which saw the Jam in their early, frenetic years scrapping to get known on the US tour circuit. The title track evokes the intended mood and has a bellowing acoustic opening riff ( my sweet lord what a nice 12 string).
While True Meanings was delicate, symphonic and elaborate, this is not. Baptiste has a Gospel / up-tempo Jazz feel to it (a la The Style Council) so apt then that his former compadre ,Mick Talbot, is resident on Hammond Organs. A Chicago-House style Piano riff opens Old Father Tyme and with each song comes a further appreciation to the thought and ingenuity that’s invested on this album.
Village sounds destined for Radio 2-land, however More is in stark contrast: a complex, crafted arrangement boasting sassy french vocals form Julie Gros. Tightly knitted song becomes ensemble, as it blossoms with musical expression which every so often reins you back in. If this is the Surrey-Son’s harvest time, then you have to admire his knack for spotting the pick of the crop, we see Hannah Peel retained with more sumptuous string arrangements and Jan Stan Kybert’s nuanced production skills give the tracks more depth and texturised sounds.
In fact diversity and collaboration are the buzz words here. The album boasts an array of talent and noteworthy that Weller has chosen to use Paraorchestra on four tracks as well as guest vocals from The Staves Sisterhood.
It’s not symmetrical, the opener Mirror Ball is an acquired taste and The Ploughman is bizarrely ‘Lindisfarnesque’ but it’s the exception not the rule. Earth Beat is soulful with infectious, incantatory rhythms and vocal loops. If the current Pandemic has thwarted other musicians opportunities, then not so for this one. Paul Weller was heavily criticised for breaking up The Jam at their peak, none more so than by his bandmates, however he has demonstrated on umpteen occasions his unswerving confidence as a songwriter and his creative engine seems to be purring nicely. He may have traded the Vespa and Rickenbacker for Ford Mustang and Full-body Gibson, but on this offering it’s evident he still has plenty of miles on the clock.