Release Date: May 19, 2015
Record label: Warner Bros.
Saturns Pattern continues the purple patch Weller hit in 2008 with 22 Dreams, when he suddenly began to experiment with new ways of writing and recording. Weller is a magpie in terms of where he finds inspiration. Long Time chugs along menacingly like the Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog, while Going My Way’s simple refrain veers into a Todd Rundgren-meets-the Beach Boys stomp.
Now pushing 57 and coming up to four decades in the business, Paul Weller shows no sign of slowing down with his 12th solo album, his third in five years. Since moving on from his “dad-rock” days with the more experimental 22 Dreams in 2008, he has continued his genre-spanning musical explorations, most recently flirting with krautrock in 2012’s Sonik Kicks. In Saturns Pattern he embarks on a cosmic journey, with all nine tracks interspersed with strange other-worldly sounds as if the music of the planets was intruding into his Black Barn Studios in Surrey.
The phrase 'masterpiece' has changed in meaning over the years. Its original use was more functional than the one we know today - a masterpiece was the project that proved an apprentice was worthy to put aside their training and practice their craft as a peer and an equal: the perfectly made piece of furniture, the perfectly functioning watch, the perfectly-baked loaf. A masterpiece was the proof of a craftsman; after that point all of their work should technically be of the level of their 'master piece.' I bring this up because there’s something of the master craftsman about Paul Weller: his 'master piece' was probably the Jam’s All Mod Cons in 1978, since then, with a few exceptions, it’s been largely solid quality.
Paul Weller sure has been having a lot of fun lately. The former singer/songwriter for the Jam and the Style Council stopped having anything to prove years ago. So rather than seeking ways to reinvent himself in the public eye, Weller has been playing a steady game of “What if?” for the past ten years or so. What if he made an album with 21 songs and a diverse set of styles to match? The answer was 22 Dreams.
Parting ways with Simon Dine, the chief collaborator on every one of the records in his great new millennial revival, Paul Weller settles into a celestial groove on Saturn's Pattern. Aligning himself with Jan "Stan" Kybert, a producer who has been in his orbit since 2002's Illumination, Weller veers left from the bright modernism of 2012's Sonik Kicks, choosing to soften his edges and expand his horizons. As the album comes crashing into view via the heavy blooze of "White Skies" -- a collaboration with neo-psychedelic pranksters Amorphous Androgynous that seems closer to Black Keys than Humble Pie and not all that trippy, either -- it doesn't seem that Saturn's Pattern would get quite so mellow, but it doesn't take long before Weller happily lets himself drift away in a haze.
Paul Weller might just have achieved a goal many strive for – to become indefinable. While Saturns Pattern certainly aids such ambiguity, there are also moments when it displays a need to touch on defined musical bases. When it hits hardest, it’s at its weakest. Single White Sky seems at first a blues-indebted shout, until you hear all the synths and spaceship noises, after which point it’s become a Black Keys pastiche with added annoying noise – one sound effect even suspiciously recalling like the Windows start-up chime.
Paul Weller’s time with The Jam and The Style Council was marked by constant stylistic renewal, careering through genres like a speeding mod on a runaway scooter. For a long time, the solid rock of his solo years suggested he’d given up challenging himself, but late period triumphs like 2008’s ’22 Dreams’ and 2012’s ‘Sonik Kicks’ have found the 56-year-old broadening his palette once again, trying out styles from pulsing Krautrock to harp-strewn jazz. Twelfth solo album ‘Saturns Pattern’ backs up recent promises of another shift in sound, sending him into uncharted, acid-spiked waters.
Even if he hadn't been the mod-firebrand voice of the Jam, Paul Weller would be a British rock institution, an icon of high standards still challenged by the adventure in his nation's Sixties and Seventies revolutions. Weller's 12th solo album is a robust binding of the experimental tangents on 2008's 22 Dreams and 2012's Sonik Kicks into taut, acid-flecked turbulence ("White Sky," the blues-Stooges churn of "Long Time") and modern-dance synthesis. "Pick It Up" suggests 1974's David Bowie leading the Meters, and "These City Streets" is prime current Weller: pensive Marvin Gaye with Canterbury-style prog-rock romanticism, a fresh way forward through familiar pasts.
Since turning his back on trad rock in 2008 with the psychedelic folk of 22 Dreams, Paul Weller has grown increasingly eclectic, each new album adding a fresh sound to his palette. Saturns Pattern, his 12th set as a solo artist, is his least sprawling record in some time, its nine tracks encompassing Stooges-style rock, gentle, chemically enhanced 60s pop and, on White Sky, the kind of fiery blues from which the young punk would have run a mile. Far more satisfying are the contemplative songs, in particular These City Streets, wherein the new and old Weller are reconciled.
Paul Weller’s twelfth studio effort sees the Modfather come out fighting with a strong nine track album that dabbles in bluesy guitar and space-age synth, which overall sees Weller writing, producing and confidently delivering some catchy, feel-good songs. Settling on a space theme, ‘Saturn’s Pattern’ starts strong with a belter of a number in ‘White Sky’. This fully fledged blues rock number, puts Weller’s vocals to good use, adding a cosmic edge to the wailing electric guitar which is slightly akin to Black Keys tracks such as ‘I Got Mine’.
It is easy to think that Paul Weller gets a harsh deal from music critics. After all, he's one of British music's touchstones; from his revolutionary and genuinely original work with The Jam, via the enjoyable, breezy pop of The Style Council through to his solo career, which produced Stanley Road and Wild Wood—two of the more passable albums of the Britpop fad of the '90s. His solid songwriting has also tended to be backed by some seriously underrated musicians—whether they be Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton, or even the Steves White and Cradock (yes, the guitarist out of Ocean Colour Scene).
In a very real sense, it’s a credit to his credibility that Paul Weller earned himself the nickname the “Modfather,” even though he came along a good ten years after the original Mod brigade had made its initial appearance. Nevertheless, Weller’s absolute dedication to the cause – that is, his adoration and admiration for the likes of the Small Faces, the Kinks, Traffic and other members of the English establishment — imbued him with an authority and authenticity nearly as striking as that of that of the artists that inspired him. His work with the Jam and the efforts he mounted on his own helped reinforce that notion, and while Style Council might have seemed a slight diversion, it still affirmed his industrious intent.
It’s not surprising that Paul Weller’s first 21st-century album for an American major label would find the former Jam frontman maxing out production flourishes; “Saturns Pattern” is his biggest-sounding album in ages. But it’s also sonically disjointed, when you’d expect Warner Bros. to hedge its investment by encouraging cohesion. With art-rock ideas tempered by pop instincts, “Pick It Up,” the psych-rock soul of “Phoenix,” and the title track’s clipped-piano drive find Weller in a surprisingly flattering Steve Winwood mode.