Wake Up The Nation

Modfather gets his weird on

There have been many Paul Wellers. The scowling post punk minimalist of The Jam years. The frilly shirted, floppy fringe jazz fusionist from The Style Council. The ‘dad-rock’ overlord of the 90s, worshipped, it seemed, as much for his excellent hair and Fred Perry swagger as much as for his music.

On Wake Up The Nation, Weller, now firmly in his 50s, wraps himself in yet another identity. Bizarrely, this time he’s the mumble-core experimentalist, crooning softly against a backdrop of avant-garde tinkles and jingles. Incredibly, at moments he sounds like David Byrne doing a bad mockney accent – even when he rouses himself and gives it the full Modfather, there’s far more nuance in his delivery than we’ve heard since 1995’s Stanley Road, until now the gold standard of Weller solo LPs.

Speaking to the media, he attributed the album’s air of experimental eeriness to a shake-up in his working methods. Instead of coming into he studio with a bunch of finished songs, Wake Up The Nation was largely assembled on the fly.

“Then they’d go, ‘All right, time for a vocal.’ I’d be bricking it because I hadn’t even got a melody or words, but I’d think, ‘Right, just open your mouth and see what happens.’ I hadn’t really done that before,” he admitted.

An experimental Paul Weller record, of course, sounds like a contradiction in terms. In the Britpop era he was, along with his boozing mates Noel Gallagher and Ocean Colour Scene, a byword for rock ludditism. So it’s a surprise and a delight to see hear him waxing weird so convincingly: featuring famous session drummer Clem Catttini, ‘No Tears Left to Cry’ is Weller-ised northern soul, all woozy guitars and jazzy tempos; ‘Andromeda’ and ‘In Amsterdam’ crank up the psychedelic factor, whilst allowing Weller to try his hand at a falsetto and scary growl.

Jam fans, of course, will be itching to hear ‘Fast Car/Slow Traffic’, for which Weller reunites with Bruce Foxton. It’s not quite a Jam song – Weller’s delivery is rather incoherent for one thing – but there’s a bouncy menace to it that taps the spirit of ‘Eton Rifles’ et al.

Admittedly, Weller at times approaches grumpy geezer self-parody (“Get your face off of Facebook and turn off your phone,” he mutters on the title track). Mostly, though, he’s interested in upsetting expectations and venturing into unexplored territory. If only his old Britpop drinking partners were so interested in veering off the beaten track.

 

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