Now roughly 30 years into his career, Paul Weller, the ex-Jam/ex–Style Council frontman, has always flaunted exemplary style and admirable ambition. But 22 Dreams, Weller’s ninth solo effort, is complete bollocks. In an exercise you could either call “ambitious” or “masturbatory,” Weller, with the help of producer Simon Dine and longtime collaborator Steve Craddock, attempts to pay homage to every sound that ever caught his ear, literally. The result often sounds like parody. Thanks to Little Barrie’s blistering garage-blues guitar sound, the fast-paced title track comes close to feeling like actual rock ‘n’ roll, but far more prevalent is stuff like “One Bright Star”—a creepy faux-tango jam about a man in lust that falls well short of the mark. Many of these tunes, like “Black River” (featuring Blur guitarist Graham Coxon) and “Cold Moments,” are slow, suffocating, and oddly synthetic, centering on hazy harmonies and bland melodies.
It’s not just Weller’s edge that’s missing, though. Even his typical skill with classic soul has abandoned him: “Empty Ring” comes off as a bad Marvin Gaye impression. Worse is the four-song suite/grand finale, which begins with a spoken-word track entitled “God” (wherein Weller repeatedly intones, “Look at you and not at me”) and concludes with “Night Lights,” an ambient, atmospheric tune that sounds like a bad Discovery Channel score. Apparently, prolificacy can be as much a burden as a gift.