Release Date: May 12, 2017
Record label: Parlophone / Warner Bros.
Paul Weller's past decade in pop has been as exciting as his first. From 2008's pastoral treasure-trove 22 Dreams, any water he could have been accused of treading since the late 90s was speedily flushed away. From then on, Weller's sense of play and adventure has been written large; turning grief ….
The question has been asked countless times over the years: why in the world is Paul Weller—a legendary singer/songwriter for four decades who sells out arenas in his home country of Great Britain—relegated to mere cult status in the United States? It's particularly puzzling when you consider the fact that Weller regularly infuses his stellar collection of original material with nods to American R&B, soul and funk. There's seemingly nothing off-putting about anything he does—it's all infectious, impeccably written and passionately performed. It's actually nod a bad situation for us American Weller fans.
Paul Weller makes music for a world in deep fracture. For several albums in a row, the English singer-songwriter has seemed jittery and anxious, but A Kind Revolution puts its finger on the pulse better than any of its predecessors. Part of that's simple timing: Released amid global political uncertainty, A Kind Revolution isn't explicitly topical, but its mood—one of fighting hard for hope, even in perilous days—captures the spirit of the age.
A fter folding in psychedelic electronics and rollicking rock to his soulboy style in recent years, the changing man continues to surprise with this tonally rich new album. She Moves With the Fayre has strings wafting across a steadily strutting funk beat, before Robert Wyatt pops up like some flower-crowned shaman of Albion; One Tear is downtempo Scandinavian disco topped with Boy George using so much vibrato that he almost ululates. Sometimes, in his quest for novelty, Weller loses a bit of himself: the martial New Orleans strut of the opening songs is a little like PJ Harvey's recent work minus the satiric bite, while his leering erudition on New York is very reminiscent of Nick Cave.
It's 40 years since Paul Weller first sang about "the young idea" on The Jam‘s 1977 track 'In The City', but as he approaches 60, the passage of time has become a far more potent muse than the fires of youth. Weller began work on 'A Kind Revolution', his 25th studio album (with The Jam, Style Council and as a solo artist), almost immediately after completing his last one, 2015's 'Saturns Pattern', and apparently has a follow-up written and ready to go, continuing the remarkable late-career renaissance he's had for the last decade or so. He's at an age where he'd be forgiven for resting on his laurels with one eye on his legacy, but Weller himself remains focused on the next great song he hasn't written yet.
Between his 70s work fronting the kick-in-the-crotch punk of the Jam, into a sharp turn towards slick soul pop with the Style Council and through eleven subsequent solo releases of heady soulful rocking, the UK's Paul Weller is on track to be as influential and more productive than his primary Mod influence Pete Townshend. On studio album number twelve (there have also been five official live sets), Weller slings out another ten examples of what he once coined "heavy soul. " His booming, instantly recognizable voice drives songs that run the gamut from the sweeping, Beach Boys inflected widescreen pop of "The Impossible Idea" to the retro folk/pop with somewhat cheesy horns of the strummy "Hopper" and the funky, string enhanced R&B/jazz "She Moves with the Fayre" that features guest trumpet from UK icon Robert Wyatt.
When Paul Weller, 59 this year and four decades a pop star, wrote Changingman, it seemed a touch ironic, because in the 90s Weller was in a musical rut, releasing a stream of samey modrock records. It was easy then to forget that Weller had once, in both The Jam and The Style Council, been eager to take on all kinds of music, from the artpunk of Wire to the guitar funk of The Isley Brothers. And then, as the new millennium kicked in, Weller got his imagination back.
There's gentleness at the heart of the title A Kind Revolution, a suggestion that Paul Weller is getting softer as he approaches the age of 60. In 2017, he's still a few years away from that milestone but he's letting himself take things a little slower, absorbing the spaciness of 2015's Saturn's Pattern and reviving the sculpted soulful grooves of Wild Wood. This combination means A Kind Revolution feels straighter than any record Weller has released in the past decade -- in other words, anything he's done since he started his collaboration with Simon Dine, who acrimoniously parted after 2012's Sonik Kicks -- but where As Is Now hit hard, this has an easy touch even when the events kick off with the raver "Woo Sé Mama.
Paul Weller has been in a relentlessly innovative purple patch since 2008's 22 Dreams, which is still surprising given the workmanlike nature of his previous decade's output. A Kind Revolution is less startling than its immediate predecessors, in part because it reins in the genre-hopping. Although some of the magic is lost in the process, it consequently comes across as a more cohesive album, one that's suffused with warmth and optimism, giving equal weight to rock, soul and jazz.
Curiously, and somewhat admirably, Paul Weller is one of the very few artists of his generation that actually makes one less bothered about what he did at the start of his career than what he does now. It's 40 years since he first broke through with The Jam and In The City hit the record shelves, but unlike so many of his contemporaries who are only too happy to hit the anniversary trail with a tedious regularity (just wait for those 50th anniversary shows where one surviving member is propped up by youthful sidemen and a Zimmer frame), Weller has little truck with the past. As evidenced by the creative re-birth that started with 22 Dreams just under a decade ago, Woking's most famous son has got on with the business of the here and now with one eye on the ticking clock and an ear open for new sounds.