On his 25th studio album it takes a matter of minutes for Paul Weller to slip into grumpy old codger mode. "Get your face out the Facebook, and turn off the phone," he grumbles, which rather suggests that, like Peter Kay's grandmother insisting on the existence of something called the "tinternet", Paul Weller thinks Facebook comes with a definite article attached. "What with the death of the postbox," he adds, "nowhere feels home." Taken out of context, the lyric seems to confirm your worst fears.
Fast on the heels of the success and acclaim for 2008’s 22 Dreams, Paul Weller’s 10th solo release, Wake Up the Nation, once again illustrates not only his perennial songwriting prowess, but also his incredible staying power amidst artists for whom influence is sporadic and brief at best. “I’m schooled in the test of time,” Weller sings on the roaring opener, “Moonshine”, and it’s clear he’s learned his lessons well after 30-odd years in the music business. Although his skill as a songwriter is unparalleled, it’s Weller’s willingness to seek out new sounds and switch things up time and again, both in his career as a whole and on individual albums, that makes his work so intriguing.
Prior to 2008’s 22 Dreams, Paul Weller was shorthand for stalwart rock & roll, never disappointing but rarely challenging, either. With 22 Dreams, he reconnected with his spirit of adventure -- the thing that drove him to split up the Jam at their peak to form the Style Council -- and created a rich pastoral double album that thrived on risk. Buzzing with guitars and gurgling effects, and built upon a succession songs that barely crest the two-minute mark, Wake Up the Nation doesn’t share much with 22 Dreams, apart from that sense of adventure with Weller cramming a suite’s worth of twists into a song.
"In any relationship you can fall into that trap of taking each other for granted. You have to kick that up the arse sometimes." ~Paul Weller commenting on the break-up of The Jam, in "Changing Man: An Audience With Paul Weller" In many ways, we the audience have been taking singer and songwriter Paul Weller for granted. That's hardly a surprise, considering the man has been in the public conscious since 1976, when he debuted with his seminal band, the Jam; remained a presence throughout the '80s with his subsequent band, the Style Council; and then continued from the '90s to the present as a solo artist.
His legacy fully established, not to mention his primacy over an entire genre (people have taken to calling him the “modfather”), Paul Weller proved his resistance to resting on his laurels with 2008’s 22 Dreams. Far more successful than such a late-career project would be expected to be, it opened at number one in England while expanding the depth of his sound to previously untraveled zones, blending orchestral sides and dream-pop reveries with standard power-chord ditties. Wake Up the Nation continues this process, reuniting Weller with former Jam bandmate Bruce Foxton while providing an insistently strong dose of radio-friendly experimentation.
Paul Weller has said that his most recent album, 2008's 22 Dreams, was in many ways a response to turning 50. It was a gift to himself-- creating something indulgent, sprawling, and guest-heavy. Then again, Weller has never cared what anyone else thinks about him. This is a guy who disbanded the Jam at the peak of its popularity, did the same with the Style Council, then went solo and emerged if anything even more popular than before.
The news that Paul Weller is about to unleash a new album, his twenty-second in all and tenth as a solo artist, won't set many pulses racing outside of those whose excitement levels peaked thirty years ago. Despite possessing one of the most loyal fanbases around, it would be fair to say that musical progression would be about as welcome to your average Weller devotee as Ashley Cole at a Girls Aloud aftershow. In fact, one of the reasons why Weller has maintained such popularity despite releasing largely insipid, generic records for the bulk of his solo career has been down to an unwillingness to step outside of his classic rock meets rhythm and blues comfort zone.
Wake up the Nation was released this year to a flurry of well publicised and oft gushing reviews. Big names like Q and The Guardian produced the double figure jackpots that every artist in their right mind craves – even the Modfather should have been pleased. And so the faithful lapped it up, and a few others, myself included, thought that maybe it was time to admit he had done something since Wild Wood and that it might be worth a listen.
A parade-worthy triumph from an artist rediscovering his experimental side. Chris Lo 2010 Over the course of Paul Weller’s career, he has displayed the kind of restless genre-hopping that saw him dissolve The Jam at the height of their powers in favour of experimenting with Motown, funk and synth-jazz with The Style Council. His resurrection as solo artist and exalted figure of the Britpop scene in the 90s saw this experimental spirit recede somewhat in the face of traditional rock releases that propelled him to the peak of the UK charts.