- 10 Dec 21
His Ever Changing Modes
I dare say you could tar and feather a songbook as strong as Paul Weller’s before you threw it down the stairs and it would still sound just as sweet, although this is possibly the safer option. Back in May of this year, the Woking warbler performed selections from every corner of his brilliant career in the London Barbican with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, all under the direction of conductor and arranger Jules Buckley, a talent who's worked with everyone from Dizzee Rascal to John Cale. The result – previously broadcast by the BBC - is another Weller winner.
The thing to remember is the sheer breadth of those song writing achievements; The Jam’s debut single and the first great Weller song ‘In The City’ – not included here, cop on – was released in April 1977 and he’s been knocking them over the bar with fire and skill since. For others, this sort of quasi-highbrow reshuffling is usually either a sign of artistic stagnation or a bid to be ’taken seriously’. As to the first charge, Weller has released great record after great record over the last several years at a rate that would shame acts a third his age, and as to the second, I suspect Weller is long past caring whether you do or you don't.
Some of the many highlights here are from those same recent albums, like ‘Rockets’ from 2020’s On Sunset, which may have found its more natural home amongst the orchestral sway and swell, and the woodwind, brass and xylophone employed to wonderfully alluring effect on that album’s magnificent title track, an elegy for a time and place Weller used to know.
Longer in the tooth classics like The Jam’s ‘English Rose’, transformed here to the kind of late sixties-recalling melancholic arrangement that might have had ‘The Walker Brothers’ stamped on it, or ‘Carnation’, which has a beautiful sadness, are also recommended. 'Wild Wood' becomes the theme song from the kind of epic movie that might pass a rainy Sunday afternoon, and you could probably play a song as marvellous as 'You Do Something To Me' on wah-wah kazoo and flanged stylophone and it would still sound great.
Long time Weller fanciers like myself may find themselves thinking, the odd time, that a drum kit wouldn’t go astray, but that passing fancy is soon washed away by another lush arrangement from Buckley; like the opening of 'Still Glides The Stream', a phrase repeated within the song while cymbals are employed for emphasis, or the way the strings compliment the acoustic guitar in 'Movin' On', or 'White Horses', where the arrangement deftly builds on that which closed out 2018's True Meanings, an album that will, in time, come to be numbered amongst his very best.
On top of it all, Weller’s voice is in great nick, as evidenced by a duet with the worn but equally affecting pipes of Boy George on Style Council classic ‘You’re The Best Thing’, a song that is now playing in your head, which proves my earlier point about the strength of the Weller songbook. Celeste and James Morrison also tog out, but this album is all about the guvnor, a songwriter and artist worthy of this quite often moving reinterpretation. It won’t replace your prized Weller records, but it more than earns its spot beside them.