Paul Weller – agitation for the nation

21 Jan

If ever one artist epitomised ‘dad rock’ it was Paul Weller, who’s nominated for this year’s Brit Awards.

Until recently, I’d never really got Weller. My limited exposure to The Jam began in the 80s via a Weetabix compilation cassette which I eagerly ordered after, no doubt, having to eat my body weight in breakfast biscuits to get enough tokens. The Jam’s “Beat Surrender” was, to my 10-year-old ears, not a patch on the other tracks – Big Country’s “Wonderland”,  “The Wanderer” by Status Quo and Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” (an early warning of my unhip leanings to come).

Paul Weller

Despite repeated exposure while at university, Weller’s mid-90s revival with ‘Wildwood’ and’ Stanley Road’ largely passed my by. I belatedly got on board (another theme in the Bate musical journey) with 2002’s ‘Illumination’ due to its sparkly single,”Written In The Stars”. But that CD soon joined others in the great loft-space in the sky.

So, I hear you yawn, what’s your point? Well, late as usual, I picked up Weller’s last studio album ‘Wake Up The Nation’ in the post-Christmas sale at HMV (RIP?). I’d not heard it, but was sufficiently intrigued by the end-of-year-magazine-poll-ravings to give him another chance. And, it’s a corker.

This is Weller in a confident rush, refusing to let the listener reach for their slippers as 16 tracks flash by in under 40 minutes – air-punching choruses giving way to samples, loops and crackles of noise. Co-writer and producer Simon Dine’s hand is all over the brittle, very busy recording.

Weller loyalists must love the insistent punk-edged title track (with its dad-ish demand: ‘Get ya face out the Facebook and turn off the phone’) and the Motown clip of “No Tears To Cry”. But elsewhere, experimentalism abounds on songs like “She Speaks”, where Weller’s half-spoken vocals are thrown in with shape-shifting beats and Kevin Shields’ guitar noise.

The album’s centerpiece “Find The Torch, Burn The Plans” is a call-to-arms anthem (“Find your way ‘fru the sand/Sing like you already own it” Weller urges), built on guitar loops and a percussion sample which sounds uncannily like the tinkling intro to Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy”. It’s soon followed by four-minute rock opera Trees’, a moving rush through life, love and old-age yearning for the ungraspable past, inspired by the singer’s visits to his father in a nursing home before his death.

Paul Weller in The Jam

My interest in Weller suitably renewed, I put on a vinyl copy of The Jam’s 1978 ‘All Mod Cons’ LP, picked up for pennies at a charity shop I can’t remember when. After the angular blasts of “All Mod Cons” and “David Watts”, the beautiful hidden acoustic song “English Rose” stopped me in my tracks. Where had I heard this recently? A quick Google scour confirmed my suspicions – it popped up on Shane Meadows ‘This Is England 86’, which, according to Meadows , he personally insisted on including on last year’s hit Channel 4 series.

Again as relevant in 2011 as he was in the 70s, Weller admitted in a recent Uncut interview: “..I’ve reach half a century and now I can do whatever I fancy”. And, true enough, he’s once more agitating and refreshing in all the right places – a million miles from tired ‘dad rock’.


One Response to “Paul Weller – agitation for the nation”

  1. Dennis Appleyard March 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Chris Mozzer thinks the author would be advised to seek out the solo back catalogue and hear much better than Wake Up…

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