The former Jam man’s latest solo album is his most soulful set since The Style Council days
After nearly 40 years of following his career, hearing new songs from Paul Weller is like receiving a letter in the post from a dear friend.
Our relationship picks up right where we left off, and I’m curious and excited to hear where the last year has led him, as we continue our musical journeys.
I hadn’t even realized there was a new album until last week, and when I did I ordered it immediately from the UK. So while he’s equaled a record only reached by John Lennon and another Paul, who are the only artists with #1 albums in the UK in 5 different decades, in America there’s been little attention paid to this new release – which is a shame, as On Sunset is one of the best solo albums of his career.
Artist: Paul Weller
Album: On Sunset
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Packaging is gorgeous – photos of Paul in California, with full color and rounded inner sleeve corners, gatefold jacket, and upon his return to Polydor, that red logo like the one that adorned his earliest releases in The Jam. Classic! The songs approach from a variety of angles – my favorite is On Sunset, the title track, with lyrical references to LA, palm trees, and the sound of ocean waves mixing with a vibe that recalls ‘70s Curtis Mayfield, one of many artists whom I discovered when Paul led me there with his covers, name checks and homages with The Jam.
At turns the album is heady, rocking, soulful, thoughtful, psychedelic, yet less “English pastoral folk” than 2018’s True Meanings and less heavy Rock and Soul than 2017’s A Kind Revolution. I’m digging the sounds of On Sunset – Weller works with a big group of collaborators (Horns! Strings!) including old friends like Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Craddock and Style Council partner Mick Talbot. But despite one song about Old Father Tyme, and hints of ‘60s influences on tracks like Equanimity, Weller continues to march forward to his own muse.
It’s no wonder in the UK press these days he is sometimes compared to David Bowie, another artist who never stopped searching artistically. While that comparison might feel odd stateside, where Weller, unlike Bowie, never rose past cult following, it’s apt. Both had long careers with plenty of sonic detours and diversions, always returning to the craft of writing and performing brilliant songs that mapped their changes to ours.
Hearing a new Weller album also unites – reminding me of conversations over decades about our beloved artistic crush. Once again in this cruel 2020 I’m missing the late Ed Ackerson of BNLX, Polara, and Flowers Studio, who passed away last October. I’m saddened not to be able to share first impressions with Ed on this record – I think he would have loved it. Yet, I’m thankful to Weller, for this music that reaches out across the ocean during a pandemic, for checking in and helping me remember Ed, and the friends that I’ve connected with through Weller’s music across the years.
I love that there are still artists who will probably never know how much they impacted our lives. Despite having met and interviewed him several times over the years, and no doubt pulled a “Chris Farley” while doing so (“remember when you wrote A Town Called Malice… that was awesome!”), I could never truly explain to the man how much his art shaped mine. Perhaps not so overtly as he did in 1982, with me no longer a teen but a middle age dad, he continues to impact me.
So thanks Paul Weller, keep making great records, now and into tomorrow and beyond.
AUDIO: Paul Weller On Sunset (full album)