There are few sweeter musical buzzes than hearing artists come into their own, which is just what Paul Weller did in 1993 on Wild Wood, his second solo release, now reissued as a double disc with the requisite demos, covers, live tracks, outtakes, remixes, and singles. Weller was always the talented kid trying just a wee bit too hard: the amped-up neo-Mod leading the Jam who then chased trends and coolness as the Style Council chair. But here, he finally laid back into a comfy groove and became a self-assured Brit-rock soul man. While not forsaking the crackling electricity of before, Weller tempers it with airy, atmospheric touches of acoustic guitar, piano, Hammond organ, mellow horns, reeds, and even flutes, singing behind the beat from the deeper reaches of his range, as if he no longer feels the need to prove himself.
Wild Wood doesn’t quite knock your socks off, but rather woos and seduces, at times echoing the pastoral charms of the oft-overlooked Traffic on songs like “Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)” and “Has My Fire Really Gone Out?” (Thankfully sans the hippy-dippy trappings of Traffic’s day.) As the album’s title implies, there’s a loamy, organic ambience pervading the whole affair. And the demos collected on the second disc here hint at the record’s ineffable magic: the way Weller’s initial, angular blueprints, with most of the elements already in place, were transformed into fully rounded performances that roll out as if sprouted from moist and fertile soil. It’s the sound of new wave truly coming of age and transcending the time of its making, earning Weller his elder-musical-statesman stripes (at least in the U.K.), which he’s worn with grace and dignity ever since.