(5 / 5)
Modfather Paul Weller’s 15th studio album “On Sunset” has a lot going for it – but it’s not one of those instant obsession albums, and takes a few spins to delve deeper than the top layer and “get it”.
Mr Weller says this is a soul album. Not sure about that. It is more commercial than recent more experimental stuff, but there are moments here among the 10 songs that take a different path too.
Work on this album began soon after he finished 2018’s “True Meanings”. The first track on this one, “Mirror Ball”, was recorded during those “True Meanings” sessions.
It’s a marathon seven minutes and 35 seconds, soaked with synths. Weller’s vocal reminds me of Richard Hawley’s passionate delivery. For me, “Mirror Ball” cannot quite make up its mind what kind of vibe it is going for, and sounds like a few part-songs blended into one. Nice though…
His usual band of Ben Gordelier, Andy Crofts and Steve Cradock are along for the ride, guitarist Craddock only on four cuts. Slade’s Jim Lea plays violin on quirky “Equanimity”. Style Council band mate Mick Talbot provides Hammond organ on three tracks.
French singer Julie Gros from Le Superhomard sings a verse on “More”. The Strypes guitarist Josh McClorey, Madness sax man Lee Thompson, folk trio The Staves and The Paraorchestra all get involved across the record. Hannah Peel supplies the gorgeous string arrangements.
Second cut, “Baptiste” has a slight Bo Diddley groove and a soulful sound that would have been a snug fit on the stupendously good 1995 “Stanley Road” album. Lovely vocal here.
You’ll be wracking brains to come up with what the main riff reminds you of on “Old Father Thyme”. Could it be 10cc’s “Dreadlock Holiday,” from 1978, by any chance? Under-stated horns add value and this will become a fan favourite.
“Village” has Paul declaring he is happy in his neighbourhood, and talking about all the things expected of him and what others want him to be…..but he wants to be who he wants to be. Comes across as a man comfortable in his own skin, done trying to please others. Good for him, if this is autobiographical. Another strong vocal and a very nice track.
The almost seven-minute chugging “More” is a superbly layered track, with horn stabs and lush strings adding mood. His controlled and gentler vocal style is spot on. Circa three minutes and 25 seconds of instrumental play-out…
Horns, strings, sax’, flute, guitar and there’s subtle nods to eastern musical influences across this track. Probably my favourite of the set, and when this is played live, if they let this one run as long as it does on the record, I’d love to hear that. Touring later this year, by the way.
The acoustic guitar and bass to “Sunset” nods heavily to Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and even Carole King’s “It’s Too late”. It has a retro, chilled out L.A. hippie feel to it. Weller sounding relaxed and in his comfort zone vocally. Nice job. “Equanimity” is an off-the-wall cut. A theatrical approach to the vocal and arrangement.
You could conjure up mental images of a Victorian street scene stage set, and the likes of Tommy Steele or some other cockney geezer and a gang of street urchins giving it large, with some well choregraphed terpsichore.
It’s fun, but more Suggs and Madness territory, than what fans expect from PW, perhaps. But “Walkin’” returns to familiar Weller pastures, and after mention of Madness, this one has Nutty Boy sax star Lee Thompson on it.
Penultimate track “Earth Beat” features UK r&b artist Col3trane. Bowie nods with the closer “Rockets”, which would not be out of place on a Richard Hawley or Daman Albarn album. Lots of Bond theme strings make this one a wee winner.
This 62-year-old famous, wealthy, much travelled and much loved music star is far from just fulfilling contractual obligations or churning out the same stuff that made his name several decades ago.
No anger, no snarling, no aggression like some of his work with The Jam and across his Style Council and solo output throughout a four+ decade career. Here we have a far more laid back, calmer, almost serene Paul Weller in vocal delivery.
He comes across as knowing he has nothing to prove and perhaps is not bothered if we want to know his thoughts or not. The album’s title, “On Sunset” might well be taken as his acceptance to the sun setting on his own career.
Not a chance….At 62, and re-signed to The Jam and Style Council home Polydor Records, he clearly still has fire in his belly, the muse is with him, and he’s evidently still hungry to make music that cannot be pigeonholed or second guessed.
“On Sunset” is an achievement. The response from fans may well be a mixed “Marmite” one. But for those who want to experience a gifted creative still searching, still on the journey and still stretching himself – who may not even have reached his creative peak, even after all the success he has had – then this is an album to savour.
But give it at least half a dozen spins before committing to definitive judgement, please. There’s far more here than first meets the ear (s). Just like the man himself.
- Paul Weller will tour the UK and Ireland in autumn 2020 – from 25th October in Belfast to close in London with two shows 20th/21st November.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’