It seems safe to say that Paul Weller’s been on something of a creative roll of late. Indeed, his last two albums—2010’s Wake Up the Nation and last year’s Sonik Kicks—are not only his two finest solo albums, but contain some of the most vibrant and experimental material of a long and illustrious career. Not bad for someone who, after leading the Jam (the UK’s biggest singles act after the Beatles, trivia fans…), the Style Council, and enjoying a lucrative solo career, could easily be forgiven for resting on his creative laurels. This is “the Modfather”, a beloved national institution back in Britain, and unquestionably, one of the finest English songwriters of the last half-century. That said, he’s always been more of a cult figure on this side of the pond—too doggedly English. Back in the glory days of the Jam, while Weller was racking up the hits back home, the great American public, in all its infinite wisdom, was embracing the dubious delights of Foreigner and REO Speedwagon, while simultaneously burning disco records for being too offensively black and gay. Still, you’ve loosened up since then, so that’s OK, isn’t it?
And, let’s not forget, Weller’s not always been entirely Godlike—a substantial chunk of his late ’90s/early ’00s output consisted of a surfeit of earnest, lumpen, stodgy blue eyed soul and RnB, heavy on the perspiration, a little too light on the inspiration. But he’s back on the creative track again and he’s about to play three nights across the city. So, to celebrate, here are 10 of his finest moments. The sharp eyed amongst you will notice there’s no Jam or Style Council material, and precious little of his late ’90s output. That’s because it’s a highly, unapologetically subjective personal Top 10. Now bugger off and argue amongst yourselves.
“Into Tomorrow” Paul Weller, 1992 With the Style Council disbanded and a planned Acid House album unceremoniously shelved, Weller found himself in the wilderness, unsure of what to do next. He came back into the game with this snarling declaration of intent. A smart, snappy nouveau Mod classic.
“Uh Huh Oh Yeh!” Paul Weller, 1992 Followed swiftly by this, a further refinement of Weller’s patented retro-futurist Mod groove with attitude to spare. Plus lashings of acid-drenched brass. Groovy.
“Sunflower” Wildwood, 1993 Lead track from easily his most focused and fantastic solo album of the ’90s. Channels the pastoral vibe of Steve Winwood and Traffic, with an undercurrent of feral lust and a taught, razor wire guitar riff reminiscent of early Crazy Horse. This, in case you’re wondering, is a good thing.
“Broken Stones” Stanley Road, 1995 From his most successful solo set, the one that saw him anointed as a Britpop father figure, and, conversely, as unsuspecting creator of that most odious of genres, “Dadrock” (see Ocean Colour Scene, Stereophonics, et al…). A plaintive, elegiac gem, with a melody to melt the iciest of hearts and a vocal performance that oozes soul.
“Find the Torch, Burn the Plans” Wake Up the Nation, 2010 An anthemic paean to working class unity. A call to arms, a demand to kick against the pricks and detonate apathy, with the kind of hugely rousing chorus usually found on the UK’s football terraces.
“The Trees” Wake Up the Nation, 2010) In which our intrepid hero attempts to channel Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, whilst adopting dual male/female personas. Skips whimsically from musical genre to genre, before erupting with a roaring wall of guitars that comes across like the Who with an entire fireworks factory rammed up their collective arses, before ending in melancholic reverie, as Weller contemplates returning to the earth as a tree. As one does. Has been referred to as a “Mod Bohemian Rhapsody.” Utterly deranged. Utterly brilliant.
7. “7&3 is the Striker’s Name” Wake Up the Nation, 2010) If there were anything designed to alienate the more conservative of Weller’s audience (i.e. ageing, overweight Fred Perry-clad white blokes demanding endless reruns of Weller’s meat and potatoes blue-eyed soul…), then it’s this slice of sonic chicanery. A queasy, swirling helping of lysergic-soaked oddness. A class war call to arms, replete with MBV’s Kevin Shields giving it full on, guitar army white noise craziness. Those demanding “proper tunes” hate it. But you know what? Fuck them. Fuck them all.
8. “Fast Car, Slow Traffic” Wake Up the Nation, 2010 In which Weller and ex-Jam bassist Bruce Foxton reunite for the first time in 30 years to produce this intense, lock-jawed ode to urban alienation. Plus Foxton’s elastic, propulsive bass runs are ridiculous.
“Green” Sonik Kicks, 2012) About one million miles away from the turgid late ’90s Weller (Heavy Soul et al), and all the better for it. Neo-beat poetry set to a stop-start motorik groove and a cacophony of background bleeps, noise and swirling keyboards. Endearingly deranged.
10.”Kling I Klang” Sonik Kicks, 2012 Absurdist nonsensical nursery rhyme set to an industrial, Germanic romp that comes across like nothing else than the Clash’s “Know your Rights,” as performed by a boozy, Bavarian Oompah band. On Crystal Meth. Result!!!