- 03 Jul 20
Push It Along
Weller’s last record, 2018’s True Meanings, was a thing of beauty, a joy forever, a mostly acoustic affair with the requisite lovely string arrangements, and another peak in a career full of them. He’s never been a man for standing still though, so it’s all change again for On Sunset. It’s a lushly arranged soul album, with one eye looking back to the decade Weller came up in, and the other split between today and tomorrow.
The way in, for both the listener and Weller himself, is opener Mirror Ball’, which was recorded for, but held over from, the Confessions sessions. The song captures the mood of the kids of any age on a night out when the music hits, and moves through several sections, including a dash of the old musique concrète. If Weller admirers had scratched their chins when faced with the experimental In Another Room E.P. released earlier this year, it at least offered a signpost to where he was going. Think of this song as what might happen if you were on the dance floor, throwing shapes to some mid-tempo Seventies groove, and the DJ decided to throw on a bit of Stockhausen, but then thought better of it, and allowed you to get back down. It’s daring, and you can’t say that about many of his contemporaries.
‘Baptiste’ starts off like a more relaxed version of ‘Woodcutter’s Son’ with Weller marvelling at the effect that the music continues to have on him, going straight to his soul, employing a horn section to drive the point home. ‘Old Father Tyme’ implores us to help the love around us in this time of confusion over more horns and a jubilant chorus where our man declares himself ready, for whatever comes.
The man in ‘Village’ – part Weller, at least – is happy in his own locale, he doesn’t care much for the things he hasn’t seen, as he’s got the whole world in his hand anyway. The music carries this upbeat message, over busy bass and wah-wah guitar, and then the strings break through like sunshine, lifting the song to somewhere else. ‘More’ pokes a stick at empty consumerism, finding time for Le SuperHomard’s Julie Gros to give us a few verses in French before branching out into some kind of flute and guitar jam session featuring the fleet fingers of former Strypes slinger, Josh McClorey.
The acoustic chords are the start of ‘Sunset’ might remind you of ‘Foot Of The Mountain’ crossed with George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ but then the percussion and oohing backing vocals steer the track to California, allowing Weller to remember the Los Angeles he used to know which he could no longer find when he visited his son in the city of Angels, as the palm trees sway and say good day. ‘Equanimity’ sidesteps into the kind of gentle knees-up you used to hear from The Kinks or David Bowie before he had hits and was in thrall to the music hall oompah of Anthony Newley. Slade’s Jim Lea adds his instantly recognisable violin.
‘Walkin’ takes a tune first hinted at on that In Another Room E.P. and fleshes it into another gloriously upbeat declaration of the positive. ‘Earth Beat’ updates a Belbury Poly’s ‘The Willows’ – the studio band of Ghost Box Records man, Jim Jupp. Weller ropes in R&B artist Col3trane to help deliver another smiling celebration of, either his missus (“She’s a new day”), or life, the universe, and everything else. Weller’s great trick is to imbue an arrangement from tomorrow with the soul of yesterday.
Speaking of soul, long-time admirers will be glad to note that old foil Mick Talbot appears on several of the tracks on this fine record. It is, perhaps, not too fanciful to suggest that in some other dimension where they kept going, this is the kind of album The Style Council are making.
He knows how to close out a record too. ‘Rockets’ is the kind of big showboating number you could imagine Hunky Dory era Bowie giving out with gusto as the strings and horns slowly climb around him, with a subtle guitar line that Fripp might have left off ‘Heroes’.
You have to take your hat off to Weller who, if anything, is getting better with age. This is a remarkable album, where melody and outré experimentation meld seamlessly. He remains the arbiter of mod.