Not many rockers age gracefully, or manage to keep their energy levels very high. Sure, the Stones are still touring and packing them in every night, but did anyone buy their last album? Essentially, everyone just wants to see them perform their hits. The same goes for Paul McCartney who got Nigel Godrich to produce his low-selling effort. Sting still manages to sell CDs and rakes in the dough from Jaguar commercials, but he seems to have lost any semblance of an edge long ago. You can see why I would be a tad bit wary about giving one of my punk heroes a chance to prove the theory wrong. Paul Weller, who formed one of the seminal punk / mod bands the Jam thirty years ago, and the more soul-influence Style Council after that, is back with another solo effort called As Is Now.
As opposed to all of the above listed artists, Paul Weller has managed to stay relevant despite some bumps in the road. Wild Wood and Stanley Road are his two post-band triumphs, but his covers album Studio 150 left some cold. In between all of that, Weller guested on albums for Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene. In fact, members of the latter now make up Weller’s As Is Now backing band and Noel Gallagher leant his studio for the recording of the album. Now nearing 50, one could easily think to find Weller among the aging hipster set, rather than still setting trends and being seen as an innovator. But trendsetter and innovator is exactly where Weller finds himself on his eighth solo studio album.
What is most evident at first is the guitar work. Weller has always, except maybe in his native U.K., been underestimated as a guitarist, but this album finds him playing riffs, licks and jangles as well as the rest of them (Warning: bad pun ahead), maybe even weller! Ha! The other thing that stands out is voice. Only in a few moments does Weller sound like his former incarnation from the Jam. Most of the time, he actually sounds like Joe Cocker, gruff and soulful. “Come On / Let’s Go” is one of the few times that Weller raises the pitch of his voice, dons the familiar accent, and fools some into thinking there could have been a missing Jam b-side. That’s not to say that the rest of the album suffers for it. Except for one song that haters of the Style Council might find reminiscent (“Bring Back the Funk Pts 1 & 2”), As Is Now is solid throughout.
Weller still has a mad on for mod and it shows. The Small Faces, the Who and the Kinks all still play hugely influential parts in driving Weller’s style. The sixties’ sounds of “Paper Smile” and the bouncy piano riff of “Here’s the Good News” all recall earlier times to great effect. None of this should be a surprise to his fans. What might be a surprise is the magnificent music that sounds like covers of lost Nick Drake songs. “The Start of Forever,” “All on a Misty Morning” (which also sounds like U2’s “Hallelujah, Here She Comes”), and “Fly Little Bird” (one of my new favorite `chillout’ songs) have that strange Cocker / Drake mix that sounds magnificent. Another surprise is the Kaiser Chiefs-like first single, “From the Floor Boards Up.” If one were to think Weller out of touch, they need only listen to this track. The thought provoking “Savages” is one of the best on the CD, sounding somewhat like his mates in Oasis, specifically one of Noel’s songs.
OK, so Paul Weller isn’t going to go the way of Sting. Bully for us! Still a great guitar player, a master songsmith, and a natty dresser, the former Jam frontman still knows how to keep things current. Even though the album is drenched in sixties aesthetics, Nick Drake soothers, and other retro flourishes, he is still updating them for a new audience. Just like Oasis incorporated their love of the Beatles into their early work, and Blur did the same with the Kinks, Weller is incorporating not only his early influences, but his entire body of work into one comprehensive consistent album. As Is Now can easily stand alongside Wild Wood and Stanley Road as one of Weller’s crowning achievements.
Nick Drake- Bryter Layter
Paul Weller- Wild Wood
Joe Cocker- With a Little Help from My Friends